WELLSVILLE — It’s been a long, strange spring.
And yet, with just three little words, the American West Heritage Center has all but made up for the seemingly endless tedium of social distancing and quarantining at home.
Baby. Animal. Days.
The annual Baby Animal Days event takes place this Memorial Day weekend at the heritage center in Cache Valley. As in past years, it’s three full days of animals. And not just any animals, but baby animals.
They’re cute. They’re cuddly. And a great many of them can be held or petted.
“You’ll get to have hands-on interactions with the baby animals,” said Sarah Gunnell, office manager for the American West Heritage Center. “You can hold them and cuddle them.”
Well, most of them. Gunnell says the center is USDA-regulated, and they learned from that governmental department the virus can be transmitted to pigs. So the center is being extra-careful with the piglets.
“You won’t be able to interact with the piglets — you can look at them, but not handle them,” she said.
Still, Gunnell says there will be plenty of other animals to both see and touch. Cows and their calves. Draft horses and ponies. Chicks and goats and baby turtles — and specialty animals, like zebras and camels.
“I think we’ve even got some baby turkeys, and they’re actually cute,” Gunnell said. “Who knew they were cute? But it turns out baby turkeys are kind of cute and cuddly.”
Although this year’s event won’t have the traditional baby bears from Yellowstone Bear World, Gunnell said there will be a zebra and a camel.
Visitors can also view the center’s bison herd, and Gunnell said they’re “crossing fingers” that they’ll have a couple of baby bison — called “red dogs” — by then.
Some of the center’s living-history events will also be highlighted at the event. And there will be areas where families can purchase food, or bring their own for a picnic.
The American West Heritage Center closed in mid-March, due to the coronavirus pandemic. It opened briefly in early April for a drive-through version of Baby Animal Days, wherein visitors got to view the baby animals from the confines of their own vehicles, according to Gunnell.
Now, with restrictions lifting somewhat, the center is offering a more hands-on version of the annual event.
“Baby Animal Days is our biggest fundraiser of the year,” Gunnell said. “We’re thrilled by the number of people who have pre-purchased tickets and are showing their support in the community.”
Gunnell concedes that the 2020 Baby Animal Days version will look completely different from those in past years. But she thinks that’s a good thing.
“We feel like it will be enhanced,” she said. “Because we’re monitoring the number of people at the center, we won’t have the crowds that we’ve had in the past, so you can take time with the animals. We feel like it will be a different experience, but still one of those really special things you can enjoy that’s multigenerational.”
Gunnell said the center is taking COVID-19 restrictions seriously. The event will only allow grouping in households — no more than 20 people per group — and they must stay at least 15 feet from all other groups.
Gunnell doesn’t imagine that will be a problem.
“We’re on about 200 acres,” she said. “So we feel like, in a given hour, we can maintain that 15-foot compliance with 200 people.”
Hand sanitation stations will also be offered throughout the center, according to Gunnell.
“We are encouraging guests to wear masks, and our staff will be wearing masks, but they are not required,” she said.
“It’s a really big site,” Gunnell said. “We want everybody to feel safe and not worry about anything.”
Baby Animal Days will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Monday, May 22-25, at American West Heritage Center, 4025 S. U.S. 89-91, Wellsville. Admission is $8 per person for anyone over age 2; annual memberships to the center are also honored during this event. The last ticket will be sold each day at 4:30 p.m.
Organizers say advance ticket reservations are strongly recommended, as the number of guests allowed is being limited.
For tickets, visit awhc.org. More information is available at 435-245-6050.
“We’re just really excited to hold this event,” Gunnell said. “And we want to get out this message of gratitude to the community. If they’re up to it, we’d really love to see them at Baby Animal Days.”