CHAPMANVILLE, W.Va. — West Virginia’s growing elk population continues to draw the curious from other parts of the country. Many just want to take a peak at what they’ve heard about the West Virginia Division of Natural Resource’s Elk Reintroduction Program. Since 2015, the agency has been returning elk to the West Virginia landscape with a program which started on the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area near Holden in Logan County.

John McCoy

Each tour in 2018 was successful in spotting elk, but chances are doubtful of an up close view. Long range photo gear and binoculars are essential.

The region was selected for a variety of reasons. First, there is little to no agriculture activity in the steep terrain of the southern coalfields so conflicts with crop producers would be minimal. Secondly, Kentucky and Virginia each have their own elk reintroduction programs on both sides of the region. It was just a matter of time before those animals spilled over the state lines anyway. Third, it was a place where elk could become a tourist attraction. Eventually there will be enough of them to provide hunting opportunities, but for now just the chance to see one is enough to draw many to the region.

Chief Logan State Park launched the first elk sight seeing tours in 2018. A full schedule ready for 2019 is now alos in place. . Lauren Cole is the Naturalist at Chief Logan State Park and narrates each tour.

“They were really popular. We take folks out to the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area where the elk were first stocked and hopefully lay eyes on them. Last year we did see elk every single time we went out there,,” said Cole.

Guests can spend the night at Chief Logan Lodge and schedule the tour around their stay. The tours are at 5:30 a.m. and another in the evening to catch the peak elk activity.

“We talk about the history of elk in West Virginia and other big game species. We also talk about what’s happening currently with the elk reintroduction program,” she explained.

“It seems easy to point at a big, beautiful animal like an elk and go on about it, but it’s really about more than just the elk. It’s about restoring habitat diversity we’ve lost since the 1800’s and the many other species that piggyback off the habitat work that’s being done for the elk,” she said.

Tours are limited and scheduled during the months of September and October.

“We do it then because that’s during the rut and we’re very likely to hear the elk bugle during that time. You can’t guarantee you’ll see or hear what you’re looking for on any wildlife tour, but we heard quite a bit of bugling last year.”

Although there was success in both seeing and hearing the elk, one needs to temper expectations ahead of any tour. The Tomblin WMA is a vast area of more than 32,000 acres and a lot of it is open ground. It’s unlikely you’ll see elk up close on the tours, so Cole suggests bringing your binoculars. If you want pictures a telephoto lens or an adapter which locks your smart phone to your binoculars is a key piece of equipment.

It’s also suggested you mage reservations soon since the tours have limited space and book up quickly. You can reserve your spot starting here.