The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

October 20, 2012

Wolf Mountain Nature Center grows from one man's dream

By Nelson Bradshaw
The Daily Star

---- — The Wolf Mountain Nature Center in Smyrna is one man’s dream come to fruition through hard work, dedication and volunteer assistance. It is a place to enjoy nature and learn about wild animals

Will Pryor was raised in the Roxbury section of Boston. He found the environment there noisy with the disharmony of broken glass, fire engines, police cars, trains and other sounds with the inner city signature on them, he said.

“I wanted to live somewhere else,” Pryor said, “a very different kind of somewhere else.”

That didn’t happen for him until he was middle-aged. “Life intervened and slowed me down,” he said.

He became a father with two sons. Dreams had to be deferred. He did what he could to support his boys. He worked in factories as a machinist.

“I was a darned good one too,” Pryor said.  But the time came when he had just “had it” with working in factories.

“I wanted to do what I wanted to do,” he said, pointing to the acreage and buildings surrounding him on Wolf Mountain. “I wanted this!” His sons were raised. He walked away from everything secure in his life, including medical insurance, to get it. 

But, Pryor does have a college degree, earned as an adult. That degree enables him to make his living as a substitute teacher. While nurturing his teaching career along, he has also managed to make good on his wolf dream, starting the Wolf Mountain Nature Center.

The Nature Center provides homes for eight wolves, six coyotes and a pair of Arctic Foxes. But, there are many other animals that need homes, those that have been injured or that have been raised as pets by misguided humans. They could be expected to live happily on Wolf Mountain if there were enough food and other resources available to permit them to live there. Pryor says he loves feeding and maintaining his animals. But, he can’t do all the chores, run the events, buy and prepare the food and everything else all on his own. 

Fortunately, other people contribute their time, money, construction machinery and other assets to the center. Two outstanding, long-term volunteers are Pam Mennis and Cary Davis, Pryor said. Mennis does chores around the center regularly. Davis, a local contractor, brings his construction equipment with him when he helps out on Wolf Mountain for a day; a new, 9.5-acre wolf enclosure is under construction, a project that may take several years to complete.

A lot of people pitch in on occasion and there exists a need for many more volunteers to do so. As far as donations are concerned, Pryor would especially like to receive one item: a walk-in freezer. Such a gift would enable the center to safely store donated meat, slashing the food bill. Wolves are not exclusively carnivores, though. The pack at Wolf Mountain browse raspberries from the brambles within their enclosure and gathered expectantly for a treat of apples.

Some contributors help by adopting animals and paying their living expenses at the center. Those adopted

animals remain on Wolf Mountain, though. The adopting humans get to see the adopted ones from about four feet away, but do not get to handle them and certainly don’t get to take them home. To allow unlicensed people to come within biting range of wolves would be irresponsible and quite dangerous. 

Pryor tries to convince people who think that wolves, like dogs, can be domesticated, that the contrary is true. He handles wolves when that is called for. Volunteers do not.

He said that wolves who have lived among people are more dangerous than those who have been wild all their lives, without human contact. That is because wolves who grow accustomed to humans lose their fear of them and can turn aggressive. He also warns against returning wolves to the wild unless there is sufficient space.

“Wolves need more than hundreds of acres to live on,“ he said, “they need thousands. They need miles, 50-square miles of habitat, at least, undisturbed by human activities.”

Where could such a place be found in an age when people are building second homes and charging around on four-wheelers? Pryor recognizes that putting wolves “temporarily” in their old environments, returning them to the wild, can have the effect of driving up their numbers for a time. But, the problem is that when humans see that the wolf population has been growing, they get their rifles out and go wolf hunting. That brings wolf numbers right back down. It’s a vicious cycle the wolf population must endure at the hands of the human race, from persecution to recovery and again from persecution to recovery, over and over. But, Will has something real and good to offer wolves and, for that matter, coyotes and Arctic Fox. That would be a home, a happy one. 

Pryor invites people to get involved with the Nature Center by coming for a visit. The center is open on Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. and other times by appointment; tours for school groups are very popular The sixth annual Fall Festival, held on Columbus Day weekend, featured many entertaining and educational activities, such as chain-saw carving, sled dog demonstrations, live music, and story telling. You’ll have to wait for next year’s seventh annual Fall Festival to catch that one. But on weekends in December there will be hot chocolate and cookies, visits with Santa, and other fun things in the mix for the holiday as celebrated on Wolf Mountain. 

On Saturday evenings over the summer, the center offered an eerie and exciting program under the stars with wolf howling being the main attraction. It was surprising to some of us to learn that the wolves howl so differently from one another, that no two howls are the same and that they are always howling about being happy or feeling sad, as though trying to tell a story. Sometimes the wolf songs blend together to make a homogenous howl that looks and sounds extraordinary.

The next howl is set for 7 p.m. Oct. 27.

Pryor’s dedication to wolves is obvious. He was asked if there is something about that species that he finds especially admirable. “I love their spirit,” Pryor replied. “They seem to have a great connection to the planet.”

Visit thewolfmountainnaturecenter.org or call 627-6784 for more information.