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5:16 a.m. June 6, 2013
Smoky Mountain Elk: A homecoming story

smoky mountain elk
The release of Smoky Mountain Elk comes just in time for visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park to also enjoy two ranger-led guided hikes with elk as the focus. “Return of the Elk,” a 1.5-hour-long program, leaves from the Rough Fork trailhead in Cataloochee Valley at 6 p.m. on two Tuesdays in July – the 9th and 23rd. The hikes takes visitors to the elk acclimation pen, where they will learn about how, when and why the elk were returned to the Smokies. The hike is of moderate difficulty and covers slightly less than a mile in distance.

GATLINBURG, TN -- “When people think of elk these days, they typically think of big-antlered majestic animals roaming free in the big parks and high mountains of the western United States.”

So opens Rose Houk’s Smoky Mountain Elk: Return of the Native, the newest offering from Great Smoky Mountains Association. Thanks in large part to the scientific efforts of Great Smoky Mountains National Park biologists and the financial support of both GSMA and Friends of the Smokies, this mental image has again taken corporeal form in the East. The elk, once native to the Southeast, have come home, Houk writes.

“Because Park Service policy supports reintroduction of native animals when feasible, and because elk reintroductions had been successful elsewhere, support for an attempt here in the Smokies began to take hold in the 1990s,” Houk said. But the process and any hope for success would not be “as simple as just turning a few loose and watching what happens.”

Smoky Mountain Elk traces the years of study, research and questions asked that led to a release of “Manitoban” elk, believed to be the closest genetically to the eastern elk, on Feb. 2, 2001, “the first elk to set foot in the Great Smoky Mountains in nearly two centuries.”

Following her book’s introduction, Houk explains how overhunting and private land ownership, complete with its fences, brought about the extinction of the elk in the East. The last known elk east of the Mississippi was killed in 1865, she says. From this point in history, only those traveling in the West could hope to view these animals.

In 72 pages, Houk’s book details the biology that makes elk, well, elk; the decision-makers who brought them home to the Smokies; and the project’s success that today has resulted in a herd some 140 animals strong and has been declared a permanent reintroduction. “An Elk Year” is a particularly intriguing chapter that takes readers from the October rut (mating season) to June, when “a calf can be born almost every day somewhere in the Great Smokies.”

“Readers who are interested in the elk will especially enjoy the gorgeous photographs and informative text in this brand new book,” said Kent Cave, one of the editors. “Rose does an excellent job of revealing the amazing story of how elk were reintroduced to the Smokies, how they survive here, their dramatic courtship rituals, and how calves and cows struggle to elude predators.”

Smoky Mountain Elk is published by Great Smoky Mountains Association, a non-profit organization that supports Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Softcover copies are available for $9.95 at Select local bookstores, as well as all National Park stores, also carry the title.

GSMA’s publications, including this selection, are designed to enhance greater public understanding, enjoyment and appreciation of the national park. A national park partner, GSMA has provided more than $30 million to support the park’s educational, scientific and historical programs since its inception 60 years ago.

Support for the association is achieved primarily from sales of educational publications and from annual membership dues. Those who wish to enrich their national park experience are encouraged to become GSMA members. For more information about GSMA’s membership and volunteer opportunities, visit or
call 888-898-9102, Ext. 222 or 254.

Source: Great Smoky Mountains Association

Published June 6, 2013

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