It appears West Virginia has another arrow in its tourism quiver in the majestic form of the elk.
To be clear, the arrow is a metaphorical. Hunting these creatures who have just been reintroduced to West Virginia is very illegal. Fortunately, plenty of people are willing to come here just to see them.
The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources nearly immediately sold out all of the elk tours it offered this fall, bringing in 227 people on 20 tours. The elk did not disappoint, willing to be spotted on every single tour but one. Last year, they were a perfect 20-for-20.
According to the DNR, while many of those who participated were from West Virginia, elk-seekers from Arizona, Florida, Maryland and New York came to the Mountain State to take the tour, as did enthusiasts from North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin and Virginia.
The past two years have gone well enough that the DNR is considering expanding the tours. Wildlife officials say they need larger transport to accommodate up to 24 people per trip. Right now, transportation only allows for 12 people per tour. It would take about $100,000 to upgrade to a larger van.
That seems like a wise investment, especially given the popularity of the tours and the (so far) apparent willingness of the elk to be seen.
Some might ask what the big deal is, but show them a shaggy deer that measures 5 feet high at the shoulder and can weigh as much as 1,100 pounds roving about in its natural habitat, and they’ll know the hype is real.
All around, it’s an incredible success story, especially considering that the species had completely vanished from West Virginia until a few years ago, when animals were brought to the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area, in Logan County, from Kentucky and Arizona to begin re-population. The fact that it worked is worth celebrating, as is the fact that plenty of people are willing to pay to see the result.
Hopefully, the program, tours and all, will continue to succeed. Elk are one of the things make West Virginia truly wild and wonderful.