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Discovering Northwest Trek

Nature comes to life at local wildlife park

Visitors observe a herd of elk while riding the Discovery Tram at Northwest Trek, a 723-acre wildlife park near Eatonville. JBLM PAO photo

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Looking for a closeup with black bears, bison, big cats and bighorn sheep? It’s baby season at Northwest Trek, and a variety of animals from fawns to fowl are visible up close on the 723-acre wildlife park.

One of the best ways to see the animals is aboard the tram, which traverses 435 free range acres of the park during a 90-minute narrated tour that’s repeated numerous times throughout the day. The animals are so used to the visiting voyeurs that many moose, elk, deer, caribou and other critters make little attempt to take cover or venture far from the road as the trams pass by.

The tram ride is part of the park’s admission fee, as is Northwest Trek’s new half-acre, Kids Trek childrens’ playground. The playground, located close inside the entrance to the park, is nature-inspired with hollow trees to climb in, sand and wet areas for play and a construction area for the older children to build forts. The childrens’ playground was designed for kids — from toddlers to ’tweens.

“Use your predator eyes,” a tram tour guide said, as she drove the three attached tram cars of visitors through the park on a recent weekday morning. “That will help you spot some of the baby animals.”

The tram tour goes through three main habitats at the park: wetland, open meadow and forest.

“Look, Canada geese,” she said, as the tram went past a wetland area, where a flock of fowl meandered near the roadway.

The massive land that makes up Northwest Trek was donated to Tacoma Metro Parks and opened to the public in 1975.

Also at no cost after admission into the park are several nature trails where it’s possible to view at a safe, yet close-up distance the habitat of various animals, including: bears, coyotes, wolves, raccoons, cougars, turkey vulture, snowy owls and more.

For an additional fee, adventurous park visitors also can whiz through the woods and test their mental and physical agility in the park’s zip-line courses. Zip Wild offers courses for ages 5 and older and even includes challenges for highly-trained participants, according to Whitney DalBalcon, marketing and public relations manager for Metro Parks Tacoma’s zoological and environmental education division.

“It’s really stunning; you’re zipping along with all the natural sights and sounds,” DalBalcon said.

The park also offers learning experiences through the Cheney Family Discovery Center, which is geared to the kids but available for all ages. The center provides information and exhibits about many of the park’s wildlife.

Northwest Trek and its parent organization, Metro Parks Tacoma, also encourage and offer several opportunities to learn about recycling while at the park. Plastic beverage bottles are not banned, but they are discouraged.

If it’s been several years since you visited Northwest Trek, or if you’ve never been there, now is a great time to spend a day with nature. Bring a sack lunch, or try out the park’s cafe. There’s also a gift shop to get all those must-haves to remember your experience.

The park offers discounts for military and veterans, as well as specific dates designed for boy and girl scouting adventures. September is senior month, so senior citizens get half-price on admission to the park. Veterans’ appreciation days are Nov. 10 to 12, where military and veterans with ID cards receive free admission.

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