Adding More Heart to Pennsylvania’s Elk Heartland
37 crux acres added to almost 1,900 already protected and opened to public access
With less than 200 residents, Benezette barely shows up on a map of Pennsylvania. Unless it’s a map of elk country.
In that case it’s the state capital. This township typically sees more than 300,000 tourists annually—and almost all of them come to see the herd of 1,000 wild elk that roam this stretch of the Allegheny Plateau. Most people venture a mile north to Winslow Hill, home of Pennsylvania’s Elk Country Visitor Center as well as State Game Lands #311 and the Woodring Farm Elk Viewing Area, which RMEF just helped expand.
Back in 1991 when Pennsylvania elk numbered fewer than 200, RMEF provided funding to help the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) purchase 1,359 acres north of Benezette. Now known as State Game Lands #311, this superb habitat forms the heart of the state’s elk country. And that was just the start.
RMEF helped PGC purchase another 175 acres in 2000, also added to #311.
Then in September 2004, just as the massive bulls this area is famous for were beginning to bugle, RMEF purchased 245 acres due south on Winslow Hill, later conveyed to PGC. The land offered an ideal spot to host an Elk Country Visitor Center, which opened in September 2010, along with observation trails, viewing platforms and interpretive displays.
In 2014, RMEF purchased another 81 acres adjacent to #311 known as Woodring Farm, with lush roadside meadows so popular with elk that it was a common spot for traffic jams. PGC built a new parking lot and trailhead leading to additional elk viewing areas around the meadow.
Most recently, the Woodring property grew by another 37 acres thanks to a cooperative effort between RMEF, PGC and a generous donor. It provides even more public ground for elk watching and hunting, as well as improved access to #311 next door.
“The property has a really big, long, flat field with incredible herbaceous forage sitting on top of a wooded hillside. It constantly has elk on it,” says David Mitchell, PGC’s northcentral wildlife region director. “It could have easily been developed into numerous camp properties or a place to park motorhomes, and we were very concerned about losing it to development. It’s right next to a popular trail on the original Woodring property, so it’s a great addition.”
He said RMEF’s support has been essential because state law prohibits PGC from spending more than $400 per acre on property except in very rare circumstances.
“But when partners add that additional money, it makes the impossible possible,” he says. “RMEF has been vital for acquiring these lands around Benezette. They’re all very key to the success that the Pennsylvania elk herd is experiencing right now, and it’s something we’re extremely grateful for.”