One hundred years ago you could not even find an elk in Pennsylvania, now 75,000 to 100,000 tourists each year head out to north-central PA to get a look at the majestic animals.
Historically, elk were abundant throughout most of Pennsylvania until the arrival of European settlers, who hunted them until the death of the last native elk in the 1860s or '70s.
The state went through nearly 50 years without elk until the Game Commission began re-introducing them to the north-central part of the Pennsylvania in 1913. The decedents of those elk, numbering from 850 to 900 animals, now inhabit five counties (Elk, Cameron, Clinton, Potter and Clearfield).
Commission spokesman Travis Lau said elk only eat certain types of grass, making large parts of the state uninhabitable for them.
“In the north-central, where we have elk now and where we were able to expand that range by trapping them out of one area and transferring them to another area, we’re had to do a lot of work to create that type of habitat and create plots where these grasses grow in order to sustain that number of animals,” he said.
Lau said that after a trap-and-transfer program launched in 1998, the elk's range grew from 350 to 800 square miles. He said they might be at the point where the current population is all the state can handle.
Lau said to celebrate the 100-year anniversary, the state is coordinating special events from now through Columbus Day, including special tours, hikes, performances and displays.
He said the best way to escape the crowds though is to hike into an “interior elk habitat.”
“What we’ve done with a lot of those interior habitat projects is we’ve tried to draw elk in the area away from places where they’re going to have conflicts with people,” Lau said. “So there’s always a good chance for elk viewing opportunities at those grass plots that are in the middle of a mountain somewhere.”