Washington Wolf Sanctuary

Iconic Communities, On the Road
on March 3, 2002

A wild streak of sorts runs through the town of Tenino, Wash., where 33 captive-born wolves and two coyotes have been given refuge just north of town in a safe harbor called Wolf Haven International.

The refuge was formed 20 years ago by a group of volunteers who rescued 22 abandoned wolves that had been living in captivity. Their goal today is to give these and other rescued wolves a safe piece of wilderness on which to live out their days—and to teach people about them.

“They are in enclosures that resemble their natural habitat,” says Wolf Haven spokeswoman Julie Palmquist. “We try to allow them to have as wild a life as possible.” Each enclosure is about half an acre. As older wolves die of natural causes, the enclosures are joined together so the remaining wolves have an even larger area to live on.

While the sanctuary’s 20,000 annual visitors are encouraged to learn more about these wild canines, they are not allowed to get too close. Some of the animals, the Mexican wolves, for instance (Wolf Haven is one of three release-breeding facilities for the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program), live in a private portion of the sanctuary where the public cannot even see them. When they are released back into the wild, they will have retained their innate fear of people, explains Palmquist.

“When they see their first wolf, there are people who cry,” says Shawndra Michell, a five-year Wolf Haven volunteer. “They just want to get close to the wolves.”

Though no petting zoo, Wolf Haven offers guided tours of the sanctuary and the opportunity to participate in an overnight camp and a “Howl-In.” At this weekly program, one visitor begins the howling, hoping the wolves will pick up the cry (and they usually do). The nonprofit organization operates on private contributions, membership fees, and wolf “adoption” donations.

The concept of living with nature—if not quite domesticating it—is something Tenino (pronounced Ten-EYE-no) is used to. Take the town swimming pool located behind the old Tenino Stone Company office. Once a major sandstone quarry, the facility was abandoned at the end of World War I. But when spring water welled up within it, creating a natural swimming pool, the city and the Lions Club combined efforts to make the area more swimmer-friendly—cleaning up the rocks, adding a diving board, and digging out a wading pool.

“Nobody’s really sure how deep (the quarry pool) is,” says Ardith Swartz, a retired children’s librarian born in Tenino. “There have been people who dive down as far as they can go, and it’s just black, and it’s freezing cold down there. Nobody’s ever, as far as I know, taken the depth of it.”

You could say the same for Tenino itself. The town of 1,447 was once a logging and sandstone-quarrying mecca but today offers a diversity of employment, including local and state government, retail, manufacturing, and construction. Many more work in nearby Olympia. Yet, longtime residents say it’s still the same small town they grew up in.

“You still meet people on the street. You still greet them. You go to church with them, and you see them in the grocery store,” says Swartz. “So to me, it’s still a small town.”

Tenino is both a town where families anchor for generations and where new housing developments are becoming commonplace, but it still offers a glimpse of elk herds and wild turkeys—as well as Wolf Haven’s wolves.

“Yesterday I went down two blocks from my house, and there was a mama deer and two babies,” says Swartz. “When you get outside of Tenino, there’s very little open space, but the town itself … I don’t think it’ll ever change.”