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Majestic Elk Draw Wildlife Watchers to Buffalo National River Country


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February 18, 2005


Majestic Elk Draw Wildlife Watchers
To Buffalo National River Country

*****
By Jill M. Rohrbach, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

As the fog lifts in the Boxley Valley and the morning sun kisses the dew on the grass, elk move from the mottled shade at the edge of the forest into the open pasture to graze.

Before long, cars are stopped on the side of the road and their inhabitants stand at the fence row at the edge of the field, pulling out binoculars and cameras to view the majestic beasts. It's not uncommon for the number of wildlife viewers to equal the number of elk in any given herd in Boxley Valley along the Buffalo National River in the northern Ozarks of Arkansas.

"On the weekends you've got to get here early to get a spot," said Mike Cartwright, a wildlife biologist for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. "We are seeing an increase in visitor use to see elk."

One of the most popular places to view elk in their natural habitat is along Ark. 43 and Ark. 21 in Boxley Valley. However, elk can often be seen near the Erbie campground on the south side of the river or in fields on the north side. Another opportunity for elk viewing is along roads leading east and west from Pruitt Bridge in Pruitt. In Carver, look for elk in the fields near the Carver Bridge and in the Gene Rush Wildlife Management Area just south of the river.

Dawn and dusk are the best times to see them and binoculars are a necessity for an up-close view since the animals are usually a few yards away.

September through October is mating season for elk with 76 percent of calves born in early June. At birth calves weigh about 35 pounds. By the start of its first winter, the elk may weigh five times as much as when it was born. By the time they reach adulthood, cows weigh up to 500 pounds, and bulls may reach more than 800 pounds, stand five feet at the shoulder and measure eight feet from nose to rump. Each year, bulls shed their antlers and it takes about 180 days for them to grow a new rack.

Elk range through about 315,000 acres in Arkansas in the northwest part of the state along the Buffalo National River in Newton and Searcy counties and in portions of southern Boone and Carroll counties. The large beasts prefer open areas for grazing with nearby wooded areas for resting.

Although elk are often thought of as western animals, the eastern elk was a native of Arkansas. But, it disappeared from the state's forests sometime around 1840 and is now considered extinct.

The U.S. Forest Service introduced 11 Rocky Mountain elk in the Black Mountain Refuge of Franklin County in 1933. Although the herd did well for a number of years, it eventually disappeared likely due to illegal hunting, natural mortality and loss of suitable habitat. Between 1981 and 1985, 112 Rocky Mountain elk were again stocked. This time they were placed near the Buffalo National River in Newton County.

The 112 elk have grown to about 450 elk. The animals are referred to as the Hilary Jones Elk Herd, after former Game and Fish Commissioner Hilary Jones. Jones, along with local citizens of Newton County, was instrumental in establishing the elk herd. Cartwright said local citizens were very supportive of Jones' program and "that's one reason it's been very successful."

Another success is the Ponca Elk Education Center, which is operated by the education division of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Fifteen thousand people have visited it in its first two years of operation. This interpretive center, which has free admission, contains an exhibit room with full-body mounts of elk in natural settings as well as an Arkansas black bear. Hands-on displays include hides, skulls and other artifacts, a geology display, interactive computer quizzes, and a birding window. Groups are welcome to schedule use of the facility for customized programs.

"People leave with a whole new aspect of Arkansas," Phyllis Speer, AGFC regional educational coordinator, explained. "Many people don’t realize we have elk in Arkansas."

Visitors can shop for educational and fun souvenirs, books, videos, shirts, and even buy a hunting and fishing license at the center, which also has rustic log rockers and benches on its wrap-around deck overlooking Ponca Creek, picnic tables, and a covered pavilion. For more information, phone (870) 861-2432.

Another source of information is the Hilary Jones Wildlife Museum and Elk Information Center in Jasper. Learn more about elk and other wildlife through exhibits and video presentations. Exhibits include elk mounts, three freshwater fish aquariums, whitetail deer section, duck section, plus wildlife carvings and paintings. The center contains river maps, brochures on things to do in Newton County, wildlife information, and hunting and fishing licenses. The center is kid-friendly with its large aquariums, and touch table of furs, feathers and bones.

The gift shop offers hand-painted agate nightlights, carved wooden toys, wildlife prints, note cards, T-shirts, caps, jewelry made from elk antlers, coffee-cups and more. Admission is free and the center is located on Scenic Byway 7 about a half mile north of Jasper and the Little Buffalo River. For more information, phone (870) 446-6180.

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Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, (501) 682-7606
E-mail: info@arkansas.com

May be used without permission. Credit line is appreciated:
"Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism"


ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF PARKS & TOURISM
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