Twenty years ago this month, the gate of a trailer swung open and wild elk returned to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Since that day, tourists flock by the thousands to enjoy the area hoping to catch a glimpse of the growing herd which now numbers more than 200.
“It is much more successful than most people ever imagined,” Jim Blyth business owner and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation member, told the Mountaineer. “Those of us involved in the release had a vision it would turn out the way that it has, but I don’t think the community anticipated how people would come from all over to see the elk.”
Blythe was among a limited group of people who received invitations to witness the first release of elk in 2001.
“It is probably one of the highlights of my life, helping to bring back an animal that roamed here 175 years ago before they were hunted to extinction,” Blyth told the Mountaineer.
RMEF provided both funding and volunteer support to assist the successful effort.
(Photo credit: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation)