See Wildlife Up Close at the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary
Just north of Red Lodge is a wildlife refuge center that somehow has remained fairly obscure to those who live in Billings. The Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary, or Beartooth Nature Center as it was previously called, is the home to over 60 animals. Here you can learn about animals that you would be hard pressed to get close to in the wild.
In the early 1900’s fur trading was the livelihood of many people in the area. Two trappers figured out they could simply start a farm and raise the animals rather than trap them in the wild. Their fur farm garnered attention and people wanted to come and see the animals they were raising. To keep things operating smoothly, they started charging admittance to see the animals. As the north entrance to Yellowstone Park was developed, the farm only grew in size and popularity. Over the years the farm turned into a zoo, changing ownership several times. Finally in 1983 the zoo became too large and the burden of caring for all the animals (over 200 hundred of them at this point) became too much. The zoo was forced to close. The residents of Red Lodge banded together not wanting this historic educational tool to be closed forever and reopened the zoo in a smaller capacity just a year later. In 1990 it was renamed the Beartooth Nature Center, and has thrived as a wildlife refuge since then.
The nature center is home to animals that have become accustomed to living in close proximity to humans, or those that have been injured and cannot be returned to the wild. The residents have grown in number to a little over 60 and are all those that can be found in the wild in Montana. The refuge is open year round, and is a great place to learn about the nature that is found right here in our back yard.
If you want to learn more about the nature center itself, and you can’t quite make the trip to Red Lodge, check out their site, www.beartoothnaturecenter.org. From there you can see pictures of all the animals, learn more about the history of the center, and find out how you can support the refuge. The website is incredibly easy to read and navigate, and all of the important information (like the hours) is right there on the front page.
If you go, make sure that you get there between the hours of 10 and 2, during the winter (summer has different hours). The admission is $7 for adults, and $3 for children but the best way to experience the center is with a group or on a class trip. If you go in a group of 12 or more, the price for adults drops to $4. Getting to the center is easy, take highway 212 from Laurel until you are just about to Red Lodge. The center is on your left (the east side of the road). There are signs near the highway. For those who prefer a visual, here is a map. There is something majestic about seeing “wild” animals up close. If you haven’t experienced it, now is the time to go since it is said that winter is the best time to view the animals as they are moving around rather than laying in the shade trying to keep cool as they are in the summer.
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