You would expect to have to travel to another continent to go on a safari, which is certainly not tops on the list of things to do with small children. But there’s an option that offers much of the same excitement that a safari provides, albeit on a smaller scale, located on the Northshore of Lake Pontchartain. A trip much easier to tackle with the kids!
Approximately 30 minutes from the north base of the Causeway, you’ll find Global Wildlife Center in Folsom. GWC is a 900-acre free-roaming wildlife preserve – the largest of its kind in the country. They are dedicated not only to creating an environment where endangered animals can live peacefully, but also to providing people of all ages the opportunity for a hands-on experience with these beautiful animals. The land that GWC sits on was originally used as a dove-hunting lodge called Wild Wings. The former sleeping accommodations now house the nonprofit’s offices. In 1991, Wild Wings closed, the land was sold and The Global Wildlife Center was born.
From the moment you drive through the gates of GWC, you’re instantly immersed in the free-roaming philosophy. Do not be surprised if a pack of deer are crossing the gravel road in front of you or if you have to stop for a bit while an antelope occupies the road. Right off the bat, everybody in my car was excited and not believing how “close-up” we were to the animals. Little did we know at the time, we would end up much, much closer.
The gravel road leads you to the headquarters of the property where the tour begins. We quickly purchased our tickets and a bucket of feed in the gift shop and headed to the covered wagons waiting for the passengers. The covered wagons are wonderful for many reasons. First, they have cushioned benches that go along the perimeter of the wagon so there are no interior seats. Everybody has a front-row view of the action. The wagons also provide constant shade, which kept our tour group comfortable even on a very warm day.
We found our seats and, after a few quick safety reminders, the tractor pulling the four connected wagons was off. You can either purchase feed by the cup or the bucket. We opted for the bucket and were glad we did. My gang was very generous with their food!
We hadn’t been moving more than 10 minutes when the wagon train stopped. The animals know what that means: dinnertime. And they came running! You don’t need to concern yourself with calling the animals over or having to wait your turn to feed one. However, you do need to concern yourself with keeping a tight grip on your feed cup or you’ll lose it to the less-than-perfect table manners of a deer, antelope, ostrich, llama, giraffe or zebra! Even the younger kids in our wagon, who had started by tentatively holding their cup out for an animal, were happily announcing that they had pet the zebra or touched the antlers of another animal before too long.
Understandably, since there are over 4,000 animals on the preserve, picking our favorite one was no easy task. Some voted for the camel and others for the zebras. But in the end, the giraffes won everybody over. The tour guide pointed out that a giraffe can have an 18-inch tongue. Well, they used every bit of it to get all the food they could, often times sticking their head and neck under the canopy of the wagon to get a snack to the amusement of all. The tour lasted about an hour and a half, and we made multiple stops along the way, feeding various animals as we went.
Need to Know
For complete ticket and pricing information as well as schedules and directions, visit GlobalWildlife.com.