BUCKHANNON – The West Virginia Wildlife Center celebrated the Mountain State’s 156th birthday Thursday with games, crafts and of course, birthday cake.

The wildlife center welcomed visitors to participate in educational activities and explore the facility, enjoying the native West Virginia creatures and critters located along the roughly 1.25 mile trail that loops through the center.

“Today’s a unique day for us,” wildlife biologist Tyler Evans told My Buckhannon. “People can come out and see more than 25 different kinds of wild animals. We also have some special offerings today — we have some different games, crafts and activities for kids and adults alike.

“It’s just an opportunity to do some things that we don’t do on a normal day, which makes it nice on West Virginia’s birthday.”

The center set up mini golf, cornhole and a dunk tank in the parking lot, while a mountain man chatted with visitors at the end of the trail.

Wildlife center secretary Judy Channell said the character represented a pre-1840 explorer.

“Those folks traveled the country and explored,” Channell told My Buckhannon. “They hunted and they trapped. They used the hides for clothes, they ate the food. Nothing was wasted.”

The building across the road from the W.Va. Wildlife Center now features a learning center where visitors can play educational games. Channell made special coloring books for West Virginia Day that people could take home, which featured West Virginia’s animals and plants.

Free birthday cake was available in the gift shop, something they have offered since the center started the special celebration for West Virginia Day.

“When I first started working here 10 years ago, the only event we did was Groundhog Day, and we decided that year to try something for West Virginia Day,” Channell said. “We’ve been sampling around with different formulas. Last year we had the Forest Service with a snake, and people loved it because they got to learn about snakes. A couple of years ago, we did everything about fish, and we’ve also had the raptor presentation.”

Next year the center plans to have the local chapter of the National Turkey Federation teach people more about turkeys.

In addition to Groundhog Day and the birthday celebration, the W.Va. Wildlife Center hosts other events throughout the year. Next up are the Rendezvous/Living History Encampment Aug. 2-3, where Channell said there will be close to 14 camps set up chronologically from the pre-colonial era to the Civil War.

“It’s just a great opportunity to come up and meet all kinds of people, and they’re all very interesting,” Channell said. “They all have a story to tell. They’re very well versed in history and it’s a great educational opportunity.”

The West Virginia Wildlife Center is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 1 through Oct. 31. Admission for those under six years old is free, six to 15 is $2 and 16 and over is $4. The center is also open in the winter months, with reduced hours and no admission fee.

“Usually the summers are our peak time of year, and [the West Virginia Day celebration] is a good way of kicking it off,” Evans said. “We’re just getting into the start of summer officially now, and we’re really hoping that we’ll have another good year. We’re happy to have the community support and happy to be able to welcome people out here.”