Written for my travel column at MyCentralJersey.com
In the many pleasant New Jersey suburbs, the most beckoning call from the wild that residents’ ears will prick at is the howl of a neighbor’s pesky beagle. However, Columbia residents are familiar with a howl of a different nature — the howl of a wolf. Sixteen wolves.
The Lakota Wolf Preserve, hidden deep within the thick forestry of the Kittatinny Mountains up various winding dirt roads, is home to 10 Timber, three Artic and three British Columbian wolves. They also house one rescued wolf hybrid, three bobcats and two foxes.
Besides the untamed locale nested in Northwest Jersey, rather than more urban cities, other stark differences between the Preserve and other New Jersey zoos is that unlike their stiffly detained zoo counterparts, Preserve wolves run amok on 10 acres of forest. Also, all of the wolves living at the Preserve were born in captivity — taken from zoos and preserves across the nation at a young age so that they could assimilate with their packs.
Becky Mace, Co-Founder of the Preserve, with Sequoia – Photo Courtesy Jim Stein
Jim Stein and Becky Mace, a married couple who manage the Preserve, raise the animals and conduct tours with no staff other than themselves. They can receive as many as 300 visitors in a single week including school, scout, tour and photo groups.
Wolf Watch tours, conducted at 10:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. every day except Monday, consist of a half-mile forest hike or shuttle bus ride to and from the spot where the wolves roam and about an hour tour, hosted by Stein and Mace, for $15 for adults and $7 for children at Camp Taylor, 89 Mount Pleasant Road, Columbia.
The tour, which takes place in the center of the observation area amidst four wolf packs, details the social structure of wolf packs, their eating habits, why man has feared them for so long, and their lives’ impact on ours among the wolves’ playing, eating and howling.
A pack of playing wolves during a Wolf Watch Tour – Jenna Intersimone
Stein didn’t always spend his days with his rather large backyard pets, who are housed behind two rows of fence buried six inches in the ground and topped with three rows of barbless wire cantilever. Before his day job consisted of butchering road kill for wolf meals, chopping ice, refilling tubs of water and importing fluids, he was a General Motors mechanic. When he met wildlife photographer Dan Bacon in 1997, he also spent some time volunteering at Bacon’s makeshift wolf preserve in Colorado, where he kept several animals born in captivity who needed a home to live out their remaining years.
When Bacon could no longer care for the wolves, Stein quit his job, took them in with his now-wife, Mace. They moved back to their New Jersey roots and founded the Lakota Wolf Preserve.
“We love and respect wolves, and we wanted to take a handful of them already born in captivity and give them a good place to live out their lives,” Stein said.
Co-Founder of the Preserve Jim Stein with one of his “children” – Photo Courtesy Jim Stein
“These animals aren’t mean or vicious like they are portrayed in the movies. If these wolves weren’t introduced to humans at such a young age, they would actually spend their time hidden deep in their enclosures, petrified of humans. One of our goals is to help educate people that there is a need for them in this world since they are beneficial to the environment and balance in nature.”
Six states have open hunting seasons on wolves, including Montana, Idaho, Wisconsin and Minnesota, which worries the wolf-loving couple.
“It is sad that the only place people might get to see a wolf is at a preserve,” Stein said.
A wolf pup at the Preserve – Photo Courtesy Jim Stein
Lakota Wolf Preserve
The Preserve is within Camp Taylor Campground at 89 Mount Pleasant Road, Columbia.
Wolf Watch tours embark twice per day, at 10:30 a.m. and 4 p.m., every except Monday. Make sure you get there a half-hour early to register, pay and either be shuttled or walk to the observation site.
Tours cost $15 for adults and $7 for children under 11. Cash or check only.
The expeditions last 90 minutes in total, including about a half-hour of total travel time between getting to and from the observation site from the registration site.
If you plan to attend on a weekday or with parties of 10 or more, you need to make a reservation by calling 877-733-9653. If it’s a weekend and you have 10 people or less, there is no reservation necessary.
No pets or open-back footwear.
For more information, visit www.lakotawolf.com.