Remember to show respect for wildlife

I went on a quick trip to Morgantown last weekend in order to attend the awards dinner for the West Virginia Press Association Conference.

While in the area, I decided to take a quick detour over to Coopers Rock State Forest. The almost 13,000-acre park has always been among my favorite sites in West Virginia, and it had been a few years since I had been able to visit. In addition, it gave me an opportunity to check one more state park or forest off my list for the Very Important Parks Person program in which I enrolled almost three years ago. (That makes five out of 20 I need to visit)

My initial plan was to take a little bit of that late morning, and even early afternoon and possibly check out a trail or two. I couldn’t remember doing any hiking in the park since my youth, and I hoped to jog some memories.

Then, of course, I would make a visit to the main overlook area and stop in the trading post/gift shop to see about getting my VIPP card stamped and maybe purchase a couple of small items.

As I turned onto the road to access the area, I noticed a sign, brown in color with a kind of squiggle design on it. As I drove farther, there was another, then another and another. I noticed the squiggle also had a small circle of sorts at one end and a kind of segmented triangle at the other.

Snakes. Why does it always have to be snakes?

There went the plans for a nice hike through the woods. If the park staff felt there was enough reason to post that many signs, I wasn’t risking a snake attack while walking around those trails on my own.

I was always raised to have respect (or a healthy fear) of wildlife. It’s important to keep our distance from animals in those situations. We are in their home, after all.

Not everyone has that mindset, as has been shown from news reports at some of our national parks in recent weeks.

At the end of July, a 9-year-old girl was injured when a bison began charging a group of tourists, throwing her in the air. Supposedly, individuals in that group had been petting the large animal just prior to the charge.

Another bison charged a group of snowmobilers back in March.

It’s always been a hope to have the opportunity to visit some of these national parks, especially those in the western part of the United States. Those places, like Yellowstone, Glacier, Crater Lake and Joshua Tree are so unique and different from what we see around our region.

As a result, I occasionally do some research into what to expect in the event a visit ever happens, which includes videos and social media posts from park rangers and other staff.

They all make sure to warn potential visitors to keep their distance from the wildlife. It’s not all cute, little squirrels that might nip at your finger. Some are large creatures that can cause major damage, or even kill someone under certain circumstances.

Our parks systems — both state and national — were created to help preserve the natural beauty of our nation, as well as the animals native to those areas. In many respects, we are trespassing on their lands, and they will sometimes react in order to protect themselves or to try to scare you away.

In the end, it’s really about showing respect and care when out of our environment. Remember, it’s their world, too.

(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)


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