Beyond Destin: Seacrest Wolf Preserve
Destin has a lot to offer, and although its beaches are world-famous and its seafood delicious, there are hundreds of hidden treasures in the surrounding area of Northwest Florida that yield for fun adventures, day trips and weekend getaways. This column which will be featured on Wednesdays, will follow the wanderings of reporter, Savannah Chastain, and explore the many opportunities in Destin’s surrounding area. I invite you to explore with me Beyond Destin.
It’s not everyday that you get to come face to face with a wolf; and it’s definitely not everyday that you get the chance of a hands-on experience that allows you to be part of a wolf pack. But at Seacrest Wolf Preserve in Chipley, friendly wolf encounters are an everyday occurrence, as visitors are led on wolf tours that are very up close and personal.
When I first arrived at Seacrest Wolf Preserve, I felt like I had traveled to the Midwest. Log cabins dotted the landscape, and Native American music and souvenirs were being sold in the gift shop. The only things that kept me fully aware of our geographical location were the overwhelming humidity and heat and the Spanish moss hanging from the trees.
Even with the hot weather, I’m glad we arrived early because while waiting for the daily wolf encounter to begin, owner Cynthia Watkins brought out the youngest of the pack for a meet-and-greet.
Baby Chaco, a six-month-old black British Columbian wolf was full of energy, and reminded me of a pet dog as he licked and nuzzled visitors.
My husband and I were the last in the group to cuddle with Baby Chaco, but he was still excited to see us and drooled and played with toys as we talked with owners Wayne and Cynthia Watkins.
The daily wolf tour began at 1 p.m. and more than 30 visitors and five volunteers made their way into the first wolf enclosure. As we walked in, we were directed to sit in rows and immediately wolves began to walk up and down the aisles. Volunteers directed the wolves amongst the crowd using raw meat as treats until everyone had been given the chance to pet and interact with them.
My husband and I were taking photos and self-portraits, and unbeknownst to me a wolf walked behind us. Suddenly I felt a giant lick across my ear and I couldn’t help but laugh as a wolf sauntered past me. My husband caught my laughing reaction on camera as this loving gesture reminded me that wolves are indeed ancestor to man’s best friend.
After the wolf pack initiation we walked through the large habitat and our guide, Wayne gave an informative talk of wolf family groups, hunting habits, den building and many other interesting wolf facts.
We observed as one of the wolves submerged himself in a pond and blew bubbles with his snout, and another showed the ultimate sign of trust by rolling over, belly up for Wayne. After being instructed we howled as a group, and soon every wolf on the preserve howled back, creating a haunting echo.
As we left the first enclosure, we were escorted out by the wolves, and even had a sighting of the Alpha male and female, who like to keep their distance and often do not interact with visitors in the close-encounter tour.
We took a quick break, and grabbed some much needed refreshments from the concessions stand on the property. Hamburgers, hotdogs, chips and nachos are usually available for purchase, but if the weather is too hot, like the day we visited, the grill is not used, so picnic lunches are highly recommended.
In the second wolf enclosure we met four very playful wolves atop a wooden den, and took turns having our photos taken as the wolves posed behind us. Some visitors enjoyed a friendly lick on the face from Alpha wolf, Forrest, as Cynthia told the crowd he is a rare Alpha male who is very affectionate towards humans.
Next, it was time to see the arctic wolves. To keep the arctic wolves cool, a pond filled with 50 degree spring water has been placed within the enclosure, and constant dripping drinking facets surround the back side of the area. The arctic wolves were stunning as their white coats stood out against the stark greenery and bright blue Floridian sky. A bit more leery of human visitors, the arctic wolves meandered around the enclosure, only approaching one or two visitors before sauntering off again.
As an added bonus to the wolf experience, Seacrest also offers a small animal adventure where visitors of all ages can meet and interact with foxes, raccoons, a coyote and skunks. Everyone was given a small handful of almonds to feed the raccoons, who were more than happy to take the treats out of our hands. Two arctic foxes were allowed to roam freely within the enclosure, and posed on a log for a great photo opportunity. Volunteers guided tours with a silver fox and two grey foxes and another volunteer assisted with three de-scented skunks who were available for cuddling.
By the end of the tour, it was hard to believe that three hours had passed. We had met more than 20 rare animals and had enjoyed an even more exclusive opportunity to be trusted to not only visit their homes but pet and cuddle with them.
Surprisingly, this week is National Wolf Awareness week, and as part of the awareness, Seacrest is hosting their annual Howl-O-Ween event October 24-26. Festivities include concerts, hayrides, story-telling, concessions, costume contests and a bonfire. So stop by and howl with the wolves, you won’t regret it!
To see a video of the encounter CLICK HERE
Seacrest Wolf Preserve is located at 3499 Bonnett Pond Road in Chipley, Fla., about two hours northeast of Destin. The preserve is located on private property called The Oaks Farm, and the entrance reads likewise with a smaller Seacrest Wolf Preserve sign beneath it. Be prepared to drive on dirt roads, as the farm is located off the beaten path. All tours are by appointment only during the week, and begin at 1 p.m. on Saturdays throughout the year. Cost is $25 per adult and $15 for children age six to 11. Children under the age of six are not permitted inside of the wolf enclosure.
Pants, sleeved shirts and close-toed shoes must be worn within the enclosures and only disposable cameras are permitted with the wolves. Camping is also available upon reservation for both tent and RV’s and a bathroom and shower site is available on the property. For more information visit www.seacrestwolfpreserve.org, or call 850-773-2897.