Canku Ota


(Many Paths)


An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


February 10, 2001 - Issue 29



Got Elk? Now the Smokies Do


by Jack Horan Outdoors Editor The Charlotte Observer


25 of the animals arrive in Cataloochee to begin experiment

CATALOOCHEE, NC -- The hoofprints of North American elk fell upon Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Friday for the first time in 170 years.

"Gorgeous," exclaimed Marvin Silvers of Burnsville as four elk galloped from a horse trailer into a forested, three-acre pen.

Cameras clicked and whirred as 100 people along a specially built catwalk viewed the historic return. Others peered through knotholes in the 10-foot-high fence.

"Beautiful, majestic animals," said Marti Smith of Gatlinburg, Tenn. "It's the first time I've seen elk up close."

Silvers and Smith were among three groups of people park officials escorted along a muddy path to witness the elk bound out of three horse trailers. The elk were captured last week in Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area in Kentucky.

From noon to 2 p.m., more than 600 people watched 25 elk - 13 bulls, 12 cows - enter the pen to begin a five-year experiment to see whether the animals can make it in the 523,000-acre park. The new arrivals appeared to settle in quickly, some even grazing.

The animals will remain in the pen until early April to instill a sense of home in this remote, three-mile-long valley on the N.C. side of the park.

Park Superintendent Mike Tolleson expressed optimism the elk, to be joined by 50 others in the next two years, will become permanent residents.

Gary Wolfe, president of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation in Missoula, Mont., went even further. "We're looking forward to seeing elk not only in the Smokies park, but also in Tennessee and North Carolina," he told the gathering.

Tennessee released 50 elk north of Knoxville in December. But the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has no reintroduction plans elsewhere in the state where elk potentially could be hunted.

The foundation is picking up most of the $1.1 million cost and has spearheaded elk reintroductions in Kentucky; Wisconsin; and Ontario, Canada, as well as Tennessee.

"I'm sure N.C. Wildlife will be watching this project to see how successful it is," said Joe Treadway of Asheville, the foundation's southern regional chairman. "If that (hunting) happens, it would be great."

Meanwhile, the valley is expected to draw droves of elk-watchers after the elk are turned loose in spring.

Park biologists say there's no guarantee the elk will remain in Cataloochee, but the abundance of grasses and browse should entice them to set up housekeeping.

The presence of elk will thrill and educate visitors, said Tom Nave of Greensboro, who described himself as both an elk hunter and a conservationist.

"They're the ambassadors for what will be a lot of fun for a lot of people," Nave said.


Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation




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