Elk herds in the Smoky Mountains

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Fans of the elk herd in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park would be surprised to learn that until now, the elk’s existence here was merely an experiment — they theoretically could be rounded up and hauled away at any time.
But a decade after the first elk hoof hit the soil of Cataloochee Valley, the National Park[0xa0] Service is ready to declare the elk project a success and designate the species as an “official” reintroduction. The elk have grown from an initial 50 to an estimated 134 animals.
The official designation as a reintroduced species means the elk, which were hunted to extinction in the Southern Appalachians in the 1800s, are back for good.
If their numbers keep growing, elk may one day roam widely across the mountains again.
Kentucky and Tennessee have reintroduced elk as well, and Virginia announced just last month that it will follow suit.
Under the new designation, elk that wander out of the park will be free to go their own way. Before, the park would round elk up and bring them back if they roamed too far afield, into areas the park had declared early on as “no elk” zones. One elk was retrieved from Hot Springs. Another even made it to Glenville, a community near Cashiers, where it had taken up residence on a Christmas tree farm alongside a couple of domesticated reindeer.
Under the new plan, those elk would be left alone to make their home where they pleased.
Elk that wandered only a little bit outside the park had always been given a free pass unless the landowner complained, but the park rarely got complaints from neighboring property owners.