There will be no elk-viewing tours in West Virginia this fall.
Coronavirus-related concerns forced state officials to cancel the 2020 schedule of tours, which usually take place between early September and mid-October.
“The health and safety of our guests and our employees is paramount,” said Lauren Cole, the Chief Logan State Park naturalist who leads the tours.
“The problem is that we have to put 12 guests and two employees in a 15-passenger van to get to the [Tomblin] Wildlife Management Area property where the elk are. There’s no way to social-distance in a van.”
Cole said guests aren’t allowed to drive their own vehicles to the area because there is insufficient parking near the best viewing spots.
“If we took private vehicles, people would end up having to walk almost a mile and a half to get to the central elk area,” she added. “Plus, there are concerns that clients’ vehicles might be damaged or get into accidents.”
Division of Natural Resources officials allow up to 24 public tours each year. Parks officials try to time the tours to coincide with the elk mating season, when the animals are more active and the bulls are more vocal, “bugling” challenges to one another.
Cole said the tours, first held in 2018, have been extraordinarily popular.
“The first couple of weeks were slow but, once the word got out, every tour has been booked solid,” she said. “Last year, when the schedule of tours was announced, all the tours booked up entirely and very quickly.”
With coronavirus hovering in everyone’s minds this summer, parks officials held off on drawing up a formal schedule.
If the virus is no longer a concern next fall, Cole expects to lead a full schedule of 24 tours.
“I think guests will sign up for the tours as soon as we offer them again,” she said. “There’s a lot of interest about the elk. People have responded well to the tours, and they say they’ve really enjoyed them.”