Joe Schmitt writes a weekly blog called The Good Life, featuring information about the region’s history, culture, climate and economy. The blog also showcases new residents, clubs and organizations, outdoor recreational opportunities and local events.
If you haven’t visited the Oak Creek Wildlife Area to view Yakima’s elk herd yet this winter, now’s the time. The elk usually arrive at Oak Creek in November and begin heading back to higher elevations as spring arrives in March. February typically offers some of the best viewing opportunities and this year is no exception, given that the herd may not linger as long as usual thanks to mild Yakima Valley weather during the last few weeks. “They’ll be heading back up sooner unless we have another snow fall,” says Ross Huffman, Oak Creek Wildlife Area Manager. Mild weather also means a smaller herd at Oak Creek. “The numbers are down a bit because we have minimal snow pack,” says Huffman. “There’s a lot of natural forage available for them so they don’t rely on the feeding program as much.”
Nature Up Close Whenever you go, a trip to Oak Creek promises spectacular sights. Near the entrance to the White Pass Scenic Byway, the feeding station gives the 100,000 visitors who stop each year a chance to see the elk up close as they gather for hay during feeding times. On average, 1,200 members of the herd, including nearly 100 branch-antlered bulls, congregate during the Valley’s coldest months on the grassy hillsides preserved as winter range for the elk since 1939. The feeding program has been in operation since 1945. The stunning 94,000-acre Oak Creek landscape is also home to hundreds of other wildlife species. Deer, bear, songbirds, upland birds and birds of prey are common. “We see bald eagles through the year,” says Huffman. Just five minutes away, on the old Naches Highway, visitors can also view California bighorn sheep at a smaller feeding station.
Planning Your Trip Just four miles west of Naches, the Oak Creek Wildlife Area is right in our back yard. From I-82, head west on Highway 12 and turn left at the junction to White Pass. Be sure to allow time for the visitor center’s video program, exhibits and kids’ corner. Wildlife Education Corps volunteers offer a wealth of information about the herd and the feeding program. Oak Creek staff members feed the elk daily at 1:30 and offer truck tours amongst the elk during feeding times. Don’t forget your camera and binoculars! Visitor center programs are offered at no cost; however, donations help the staff maintain equipment and buy hay in emergency situations. Donations are even more critical in recent years, due to the impact of budget cuts.
Call 509-653-2390 for more information and to ask about truck tours.