As dusk started to settle in, I spotted an unlikely figure in the distance.
“Dad stop the truck. It’s an elk! Let me photograph it,” I said.
He stopped the vehicle and I got my camera ready. With my Canon DSLR in tow, I began snapping photos of the spike bull elk.
Stoic yet graceful, the magnificent animal stood there in the field unperturbed by our group of trucks. He was full-bodied, healthy, and boasted light tan fur.
After he darted off to follow some elk cows, we followed the rest of our party to the next location. Then, 100 or so members of the burgeoning herd appeared before our eyes. They were wild and free, in their element, deep in the heart of Virginia’s coal country.
This encounter was a great way to kick off festivities for the Virginia Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) state chapter’s annual Elk Rendezvous Weekend.
From March 29-31, 2019, volunteers from around the Commonwealth, nearby West Virginia and as far as Maryland, descended on the town of Grundy in Buchanan County to help restore habitat and meet other elk enthusiasts.
Organizers said 28 people previously showed up to help the year before. Thanks to social media promotion, attendance reached 124.
While I reported on the miracle happening there, my dad, a general contractor by trade and an eager helper, took the lead in helping improve existing shelters and other wildlife-viewing structures on site.
For many of us, that weekend was life-changing. It certainly was for me.
History of Elk in Virginia
Seeing North American elk (Cervus canadensis) thrive downstate isn’t an anomaly. In fact, it’s the “Elk Capital of Virginia.”
But this wasn’t always the case.
Its predecessor, the Eastern elk (Cervus canadensis canadensis), was last reported in Clarke County in 1855. Because of unregulated hunting and habitat loss, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) officially declared the subspecies extinct in 1880.
The future of this magnificent, towering creature was bleak and grim. But the formation of wildlife agencies last century would soon inspire great change.
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