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6.05.2016

Learning about PA's Elk Herd at the Elk Country Visitor Center, Benezette, PA, Elk County

Today we take a look at the Elk Country Visitor Center, one of the finest interpretive centers in the state. It gives a terrific overview of the history of the elk herd in Pennsylvania. It is the result of a public and private partnership, a rare combination for this type of facility. It is located in the heart of the Winslow Hill Area, the heart of the elk herd's stomping grounds. The interpretive center offers a great film that gives an overview of the current status of the elk, and the overall history of the species within the state. 
On our way up Winslow Hill to the Visitor Center, we happened to go by the Benezette United Methodist Church
This guy was about an hour and a half early for services. He was waiting to get a front seat in the pews.

Now on to the Elk Country Visitor Center!

Elk were once as prevalent as deer in this state, but thanks to no regard for our environment, the original elk that lived in the state had gone extinct. Leading Pennsylvanian conservationist, first head of the US Forest Service, and eventual governor of Pennsylvania, Gifford Pinchot, along with many others, elk were reintroduced to the state. The elk were imported from Yellowstone and other places in the west, and thanks to a cooperative effort, there is a giant and self-sustaining herd once again in the state. In honor of this vision, the visitor center is LEED Gold Certified as a sustainable building that makes minimal environmental impact.
The main lobby has a wood stove fireplace, a quaint touch that is a great centerpiece for this interpretive center.
They've preserved multiple elk specimens, along with those of other species native to the area. It gives you great idea of not just the area of the PA Great Outdoors Region, but many of the forests throughout the state.
They also have some of the natural predators in the area, specifically foxes, coyotes, wolves, and bears. Unfortunately, many of these predators have been disrupted like the elk were. 
Turkeys are extremely common around here, and especially around Winslow Hill. There was one spot that we drove through about five times, and a turkey ran in front of our car every single time. I always appreciate the taxidermy of these animals. It gives us an up close view of the animals that you cannot get out in the wild. Seeing the small details is so helpful in understanding these species better. The Elk Country Visitor Center is an excellent place to get a better understanding of these majestic creatures.
We decided to take a minute to appreciate the fire while we waited for the interpretive movie to begin.
And a hawk was getting ready to pounce! Just kidding, but these displays are so cool.
Here is a little fawn. Late May and early June is when the fawns are born. This maternal species protects its young quite well, and you will not often see these fawns, for their mothers keep them protected in an area that is not very visible. These places are often in areas with tall grasses and greenery.

The building is an excellent facility and perfect for introducing people to this great species.

The interpretive film is excellent. The pre-film show shows an elk that appears to be stuck in a rope swing. Rangers and volunteers had to rescue this animal that was struggling for hours by way of tranquilizing it and untying the rope and tire from this animal's antlers. 
The film is an excellent primer into the world of Pennsylvania's elk herd. There has been a mighty struggle to bring the herd to where it is at today, with how degraded mankind left the Pennsylvania countryside through the late nineteenth through the mid-twentieth century. Awareness of this degradation took a long time for us to understand, with President Teddy Roosevelt championing the cause of conservation. The outdoorsman that he was, he wanted to do everything in his power to improve our environment. Through his and the leadership of Gifford Pinchot and others, we were able to get to a point where the elk were reintroduced into the state and areas that were decimated through heavy industry and other actions, were reclaimed. The film offers a genuine look at the history of the elk species within the state. Additionally, the film offers terrific insights into the way that the herd lives within the state. 
Observation areas surround the interpretive center, with a series of small and accessible trails that lead to different overlooks in the open areas that elk like to congregate.
Taking a stroll through the area is worthwhile for the views alone, even without the elk in sight. They were hanging out in other areas of Winslow Hill on the morning that we visited the center this time. When we went in the fall a few years ago, this area was filled with elk. 
Another species caught Brit's eye though!
A chipmunk!
This small trail leads to this overlook with some spectacular views of the rolling hills in the area.
No elk at the moment, but still very beautiful nonetheless.
We highly recommend visiting the Elk Country Visitor Center in the PA Great Outdoors Region to get a great primer on the history of PA Elk, and an understanding about the ways of this majestic species.

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