West Virginians can’t yet hunt the elk that roam the state’s southern mountains, but there’s a way to get to see them.
Starting Sept. 19, the state’s Parks Section will take guests on a series of 19 “elk management tours.” The 4-hour tours, which can accommodate up to a dozen guests at a time, begin at Chief Logan State Park and take place on the nearby Tomblin Wildlife Management Area.
Parks officials began offering the tours last fall. Sam England, the section’s chief, said they were “very popular.”
“We sold out almost every tour we had last year,” he added. “One of the things that made them popular was that we saw elk every time.”
Getting to see elk, though quite likely, isn’t guaranteed. The animals are not penned up; they roam freely across the Tomblin tract, which encompasses more than 32,000 acres of rugged hills and steep-sided valleys in Logan and Mingo counties.
Lauren Cole, the naturalist at Chief Logan, leads the tours.
“She makes the experience a lot more than ‘let’s go see an elk,’” England said. “She explains the ecological benefits the state will reap from reintroducing elk to the landscape, and she explains how managing the land for elk benefits many species of animals and birds, both game and non-game.”
In addition to the elk, the Tomblin tract is also home to thriving populations of white-tailed deer, black bears, wild turkeys and other wildlife species.
“The bottom line is that our guests will probably see elk, but they’ll certainly see some sort of wildlife,” England said.
Guests are not allowed to use their own vehicles for the tour. Instead, they ride in vans driven by park personnel.
“We do that because the Tomblin WMA is an active hunting area during the fall, and as a courtesy to hunters we want to limit visitor activity to specific places and times of the day,” England said. “Tour guests travel as a group so everyone has the same opportunity to see and learn.”
Parks officials have timed the excursions to take advantage of the “rut,” or elk mating season, which takes place in September and October. Not only are the animals more active then, they’re also more vocal. Bull elk “bugle” challenges to one another, emitting whistle-like bellows that can be heard over long distances.
The elk are extremely wary of humans, so visitors shouldn’t expect to see them “up close and personal.” To enhance the viewing experience, parks officials encourage guests to bring binoculars, spotting scopes or cameras equipped with powerful telephoto lenses.
Both morning and evening tours are scheduled for this fall. Morning tours begin at 5:30 a.m. and include an “express breakfast.” Afternoon tours begin at 4 p.m. and include a “finger food” snack for each participant.
Stand-alone tours cost $30 per person. Parks officials are also offering $150 package that includes tours and overnight lodging for two, which includes taxes and food gratuities. Each tour participant will receive an elk-themed commemorative medallion.
Guests on the tours should wear clothing appropriate for the conditions, and should wear sturdy, closed-toe shoes or boots for walking up to 2 miles over rough terrain. “The management tour isn’t sitting in a vehicle looking at elk,” Cole said.
All activities originate at the Chief Logan Lodge and Conference Center, located just off Corridor G (U.S. Route 119) between Chapmanville and Logan. Reservations can be made by calling the lodge directly at 304-855-6100.