A potential number of visitors to Tennessee’s Mountains might spot a herd of elk among the glowing beauty of the autumn foliage. For me and other nature-lovers, the sight of a rarely-seen animal can make an outdoor trip truly memorable. Most people consider elk to be a creature of the Western Rockies and Canadian high country. However, what many visitors to this area do not know is, that elk herds have been reintroduced to several mountainous areas here in Tennessee and surrounding states. In most cases, these new elk herds are growing in their numbers. Current estimates show the Tennessee elk population at slightly above 300 animals. Many of these elk inhabit the Cumberland Mountains north of Knoxville along the Kentucky border. Kentucky has enjoyed great success in their elk program as well. The Smokies got their first re-introduction to elk in 2001 by the National Park. The first elk were released in North Carolina’s Cataloochee Valley which is just over the Tennessee border of the National Park close to Maggie Valley. Twenty-five elk were released in ’01 and twenty-seven in ’02. Further releases have been suspended for now due to fears of introducing Chronic Wasting Disease.
Today it seems strange to realize that elk were once plentiful all over Tennessee. The influx of European settlers combined with unregulated hunting and environmental loss of habitat, slowly decimated the native elk. The last Tennessee elk were seen in Obion County in 1865. The survival rates on these newly created elk herds seem to run about 82%. New animals are kept in a 3 acre holding pen for several weeks to adapt to their new surroundings. Many are radio collared before release to better monitor their movement. This aids wildlife officials better understanding of the species’ behavior and helps plan future releases.
For leaf-viewing enthusiasts coming to the Smokies, this last week of October could be close to peak color. Much of this is dictated by elevation and forces of nature, like wind and rain. The high peaks may get stripped of color soon, with valleys being the last to go. Those of you looking for elk should know that they often favor high meadows unless weather or perceived threat drives them to thicker cover found in lower elevations. Elk dwarf the size of our common eastern white-tailed deer. White-tails are often not much larger than a big dog. Elk are 4-5 feet high. Bulls can weigh over 1000 lbs. with cow elk about 1/2 the weight of a bull. Elk are usually reddish brown with a pale yellow rump patch and a small white tail. Bulls can sport a deeper chestnut brown neck and mane with large round antlers that arch back over their body.
If you are planning a trip to the Smokies for leaf or wildlife viewing, this last week of October and early November is a great opportunity. If you are planning a trip here to check out real estate, the timing is great as well. Rates are still low on mortgages and there are many active listings on the market. Be sure to contact us early at the Jason White Team, so we can take time with you. You can go to our website to review our listings and refine your search online. It is always good to reveiw your price range with your lender so you can maximize your time here, find that ideal property and have time to pursue the fun that the Smokies have to offer.