We’re working our way up the Blue Ridge Parkway starting at the southern entrance in Cherokee, North Carolina.
October 4th – First stop is Cherokee, North Carolina arriving in the afternoon for our trek up the Blue Ridge Parkway. Not wanting to get into a long hike late in the day we headed out to the Smoky Mountains National Park Visitors Center and a short hike in the direction of Mingo Falls.
It’s been some time since I read anything about the reintroduction of elk into the North Carolina mountains and I hadn’t given it any thought when planning this trip so it was a real shock when we ran into a herd of elk first thing.
Reintroduction of elk into Great Smoky Mountains National Park began in 2001 when 25 elk were brought from the Land Between the Lakes National Area of Tennessee. In 2002, the National Park Service imported another 27 animals.
So far the elk seem to be improving the mountain forest environment as the elks’ grazing is active enough to stimulate good plant regrowth. They keep fields clear by keeping the grasses shorter and make it easier to navigate for smaller animals, such as rabbit or turkey, and also make it easier for birds of prey to search through the shorter grasses. They are also adding to the network of game trails in the forest. However the elk have been missing from this environment for over a hundred years and researchers are still studying the impact of their reintroduction watching for signs of stress.
Coming across a heard of elk and a male with an impressive set of antlers was a real surprise that pushed off the Mingo Falls hike until tomorrow morning. In the meantime we headed back to the Visitors Center and a visit to the Mountain Farm Museum.