HOLDEN, W.Va. — A van bounces along a dirt road along the spine of a hill through wide open fields of grass and short underbrush. The reclaimed strip job is now the home to a growing herd of elk in southern West Virginia.
The dozen or so in the van pile out and quietly start to gaze to the hollows below and the adjoining hillsides. Some of them scan with binoculars and others with the naked eye. The silence is pierced by the haunting and unmistakable echo of a bugling bull elk as the rut begins in southern West Virginia.
It’s an experience the state of West Virginia has long wanted to capture and showcase for visitors. Two years after the first elk were reintroduced on the Tomblin Wildlife Management area, the effort is starting to take shape.
“We’re offering tours out of Chief Logan Lodge,” said State Parks Chief Sam England. “It’s a good place for folks to come and find information about the elk. These aren’t penned elk, which is often a misunderstanding, these elk are wild and they are free roaming in that area.”
The lodge started offering tours a couple of weeks ago. The package includes overnight accommodations, meals, and a tour of the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area to spot elk. There are no guarantees any will be seen, but the first tours have reportedly seen multiple elk and heard several bugles. The overnight package isn’t required and the public cane take the tour only, but England noted all of those who have been on the tours so far have traveled more than 50 miles to be there.
“It’s an immersive program, more than just going to see a bunch of elk.” said England. “We have a naturalists who starts the tour at the lodge with a full dissertation about elk and the elk biology.”
When guests make it to the Wildlife Management Area, the educational opportunities continue as guides explain how to track elk, look for sign, and spot them at great distances. There are also opportunities to see other wildlife on the landscape.
Wildlife viewing was one of the catalysts for the elk reintroduction. The state of Kentucky reports as much interest in seeing elk as in hunting them. West Virginia hopes to cash in on that opportunity as well.
Elk tours run September and October and space is limited. Those interested should call the lodge to find out available dates at 304-855-6100.