Outdoor enthusiasts can delight at the robust variety of wildlife in Central Washington. The Yakima Canyon southeast of Ellensburg, in different seasons, can provide dramatic views of eagles, hawks and other raptors, a variety of birds nesting in the canyon walls, big horn sheep, deer, elk, coyotes and smaller mammals.
Wildlife viewing is also possible on designated state-owned wildlife areas in the Colockum, L.T. Murray, Quilomene, Whisky Dick and Wenas areas.
The 91,603-acre Colockum Wildlife Area is located about 15 miles south of the city of Wenatchee, in Kittitas and Chelan counties. Managed as one unit, WDFW owns 46,019 acres, the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) owns 34,561acres interspersed in checkerboard fashion, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) owns 11,023 acres managed by WDFW through a Memorandum of Understanding. The Colockum is contiguous to the south with the Quilomene unit of the L.T. Murray Wildlife Area. Elevations range from 480 feet to 6,875 feet, with steep, rocky slopes and a rolling series of ridges and canyons that generally drain west to east.
Acquisition of the Colockum began in the mid-1950s using federal Pittman-Robertson funds to expand winter range for deer and elk herds and to perpetuate and improve upland game bird habitat.
Leah Polacek Butterfly Garden
Established in 2006 and located on the Central Washington University campus, the Butterfly Garden serves as a unique and educational sanctuary for butterflies and as a place of reflection. There is also an interpretive walk illustrating the life cycle of the butterfly with plants and trees that are native to Kittitas Valley and Central Washington. The garden, located next to Mitchell Hall, is dedicated to Leah Kinney Polacek, a 1995 CWU graduate and teacher.
Ellensburg, WA 98926
Yakima River Canyon just south of Ellensburg
Wenas Wildlife Area supports a significant population of California big sheep, and also Rocky mountain elk and mule deer. The area is used heavily as a stopover by migratory birds during springtime, and supports many resident bird species year round. During winter, bald eagles are common residents in the Yakima Canyon and tributary canyons. Rattlesnakes are relatively common during late spring and summer at lower elevations.
The 17,803-acre Quilomene unit and 28,549-acre Whiskey Dick unit, located about 15 miles northeast of Ellensburg, are now connected by WDFW’s recent acquisition of 5,441 acres of the Skookumchuck drainage. The contiguous total of 51,793 acres (of which WDFW owns 11,523 on Quilomene and 17,027 on Whiskey Dick, with the balance in DNR acres) is managed together. The first purchase was made in 1962 with state Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation funds to expand winter range for deer and elk herds and to perpetuate and improve upland game bird habitat.
The units range in elevation from 550 feet above sea level at the Columbia River on the east, to 3,200 feet in the northwest corner (a distance of some 10 miles).
The northernmost Quilomene unit is bordered on the north by the Colockum Wildlife Area. The Quilomene Creek basin lies in the dry, shrub-steppe habitat along the Columbia River northeast of Ellensburg. The similar Whiskey Dick Creek basin lies south of the Quilomene. Flows remain fairly constant due to the springs scattered throughout the drainage. Quilomene Creek, Whiskey Dick Creek, and some of their tributaries provide habitat for resident trout.
Rangeland and ranches lie to the east. To the west is the sprawling Wenas Wildlife Area, where springtime flowers bloom in brilliant yellow, purple and orange and wildlife viewing is accessible all season from a trailhead that crosses the river and leads up to the canyon ridge.