The Call of the Wild Inspires a Young Runner

Saving the Wolves by Running 13.1

The mournful and haunting sound of a lone wolf’s howl has inspired many writers, artists, and adventurers. For Peyton, an 11-year-old runner from New Hampshire, it’s the reason he’s running 13.1 miles this October. He’s on a mission to help save the endangered Gray wolf, and restore natural balance to the forests of northern New England.

Wolf Conservation Center South Salem NY
Peyton visits the wolves of the WCC

After a 4 1/2 hour car ride, we all needed to stretch our legs. The four of us looked up the long steep hill leading to the entrance of the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, NY. My wife, Tina, handed out sunscreen as Abigail and Peyton grabbed a quick bite from the snack bag.

We were met by WCC Operations Manager Spencer Wilhelm, a soft-spoken man with the huge responsibility of maintaining the buildings and grounds, caring for the wolves, and educating the public about wolf conservation. Spencer helped us to understand the keystone role that wolves play in the wild. Their survival is necessary to ensure the balance and diversity of the ecosystem around us.

Wolf Conservation Center Staff
Atka, Spencer, Alex, Rebecca, Maggie and Peyton

We joined in with a visiting group of 6th graders for what I would call “Wolves 101.” It was a fascinating presentation on the basics of wolf behavior and the complexity of reintroducing a species to their native habitat. As Peyton listened to Spencer, I could see his excitement building as he became even more enthralled by Canis lupus.

Next, we walked across the forested grounds to a large 2-acre pen housing three ambassador wolves. The Rocky Mountain Gray Wolves were ready for us. Zephyr and his sister, Alawa patrolled the fence back and forth like sentries. Their enchanting golden eyes took in everything, and the sight of their lithe bodies and loping gait sparked a primal response in me that was equal parts fascination and fear. Peyton was thrilled.

Wolf Conservation Center nywolf
Bananas! Yum!

The youngest wolf in the pack is 1-year-old Nikai. A beautiful Gray wolf that prefers to stay back from the crowds and observe. Peyton found what he was looking for that day. After watching Nikai, he knew he’d found his wolf brother. Reserved and quiet, but a predator at heart.

Wolf Conservation Center NY
Zephyr, Nikai, and Alawa

Next we visited the pen of the feral Red wolves, a smaller breed with a family that was working to rebuild the wolf population in the forests on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The mother is expecting new pups any day now, and the pack is understandably reluctant to visit with strangers. The Red wolves of WCC enjoy their privacy. They wanted nothing more than a quick peek to see who had come to peer into their space.

Maggie Howell, (yes, really) the Executive Director of the WCC came out to greet Peyton and thank him for his efforts to raise funds by running a half marathon this fall. She was immediately engaging and generous with her time and attention. Maggie’s passion and knowledge for the wolves is contagious. As she talked to us Zephyr, Alawa, and Nikai came trotting over to join us for a bit of wolf talk.

NY Wolf Conservation Center

Thankfully, Atka returned from a school visit just before we left for the day. Atka is a beautiful, 13-year-old Arctic wolf, who has been the face of the WCC for many years. As he passed by us on the way to his private pen, I was struck by his size and grace. Maggie said he loved the harsh winter we’ve had this year, and with his thick, white coat of fur I can see why.

Peyton, Maggie, and Atka

One of the highlights of the trip was seeing Peyton and Atka howl together. The piercing sound of the wolf’s howl, and the smile on my son’s face will be forever intertwined in my memory. Wolves howl for many reasons, but I think this one was a rally cry. Go, Peyton!

Help save the wolves! You can visit Peyton’s Crowdrise page here. Thank you!


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