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Elk herd in Great Smoky Mountains National Park benefits from Charter Communications’ grant, along with financial support and volunteer efforts, starting in 2001

January 22, 2014

  • Bull elk, Jon Phillips

 by Julie Dodd

Jim Hart receives check from Charter for GSMNP elk project

Jim Hart, president of Friends of the Smokies, receives a $13,720 check from Charter Representatives Mark Spilman (left) and Kenny Parker(right)

Reintroducing elk into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been a successful 13-year effort involving corporate and community financial contributions, thousands of hours of volunteer support, innovative programming, and coordinating efforts by GSMNP and the Friends of the Smokies.

To-date, Friends has provided more than $233,000 for elk conservation efforts in the Cataloochee Valley in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The anniversary of the reintroduction of the elk is Feb. 2.

Elk reintroduced

On that date in 2001, more than 800 people were on hand for the release of the first elk in the Cataloochee Valley.

The reintroduction of elk initially was a five-year experimental project with financial and in-kind support from Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Friends of the Smokies, Great Smoky Mountains Association and the University of Tennessee.

Microchipping elk in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Ear tag, microchip and radio collar help identify and track the elk

The most recent gift to support the elk project is a $13,720 grant from Charter Communications, Inc. The funds purchased 15 radio collars and two receivers for tracking and monitoring elk throughout the Park.

Radio collars have been used from the start of the program for biologists to monitor the growth, survival and movements of the population.

Two hundred years ago elk roamed the southern Appalachian mountains and elsewhere in the eastern United States.

Monitoring elk herd

When the elk were reintroduced to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2001, all of the elk were fitted with radio collars.

As the elk herd grows, today numbering at least 120 animals, biologists continue to monitor a subset of the herd annually to monitor population dynamics particularly focusing on newborn calves and females.

The donation from Charter helps provide much needed collars to fit the calves and five adult females per year along with any nuisance animals.

Elk ear tagging - GSMNP

Wildlife biologists from Great Smoky Mountains National Park attach bull elk’s ear tag bearing unique identifying number for this animal

“Charter is a communications and technology company,” said Joe Pell, vice president and general manager for Charter’s operations in Louisiana and Tennessee. “Funding the radio telemetry that Park biologists use to ensure the elk’s success fits with our company’s focus.”

Radio-transmitters are one of the most useful instruments to help track animal locations and survival. This is true, not only for elk, but other wildlife species as well.

Information gained from the use of radio telemetry equipment has been vital in making short and long-term management decisions regarding bears, elk and bats within the Park, and continues to be an integral part of ongoing wildlife monitoring and management efforts.

“We find it very satisfying to have a healthy elk herd. Our job is to help maintain that by giving them the supplies they need,” says Jim Hart, President of Friends of the Smokies.

Mark Spilman, vice president and general manager for Charter’s operations in the Carolinas and Virginia adds, “The Great Smoky Mountains is the country’s most visited National Park. Many of our own employees that live and work in the region have experienced seeing these majestic animals thrive in Cataloochee.  And now, they are officially a ‘Friend of the Smokies.’”

Elk Bugle Corps

Because of the popularity of the elk for Park visitors, the Great Smoky Mountains Bugle Corps was created in 2007 in response to the increase of visitors in the Cataloochee Valley. In the first year, volunteers donated over 3,500 hours and talked with over 45,000 visitors.

In 2008, the Elk Bugle Corps received a Neighborhood Electric (E-ride) Vehicle to use in patrolling the Cataloochee Valley to provide information about the elk to Park visitors. The vehicle was funded by a grant from Clean Fuels Advance Technology (CFAT) program through the North Carolina Solar Center at NC State University, with the Friends of the Smokies providing supporting funds from proceeds of the sale of Friends of the Smokies North Carolina license plates.

In 2013, the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority provided funds for the Elk Bugle Corps’ new Elk Bike Patrol.

The patrol helps control traffic, dealing with “elk jams.”

The Elk Bike Patrol also answer visitor questions. Funds from the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority also provided uniforms for the Elk Bugle Corps who travel the valley on foot and in the E-ride vehicle so Corps members are more visible to visitors.

Creating habitat for elk

Another part of the success of the elk reintroduction program is Cataloochee Field management. The fields are mowed once a year to preserve the historical landscape, with mowing conducted in August to provide better summer habitat for elk.

Watching the herd grow and thrive has been a highlights during Friends of the Smokies’ 21-year history. One of the most important ongoing sources of support for elk conservation in Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been proceeds from Friends of the Smokies’ North Carolina specialty plate. Every North Carolina driver who loves the Smokies and purchases or renews a Friends of the Smokies plate helps ensure the continued health of the herd and the opportunity for Park visitors to see and enjoy them.

FriendsOfTheSmokiesNorthCarolinaPlate

North Carolina Friends of the Smokies specialty license plate

For more information about Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, please visit the website. You can also find Friends of the Smokies on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at SmokiesFriends.

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The elk is then fitted with a radio collar, a microchip, and an ear tag. The elk is examined and measured. Charter Communications, Inc., personnel assisted with the process.

For more information about the programs mentioned here, visit the park’s website at www.nps.gov/grsm.  To learn more about Friends of the Smokies, go tohttp://fotsmigrate.wpengine.com

– Information for this post was compiled from news releases from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, The Asheville Citizen-Times, and from news releases and newsletters from Friends of the Smokies.

Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a 501 (c)(3) not-for-profit organization has been helping to preserve and protect Great Smoky Mountains National Park by raising funds and awareness and recruiting volunteers for needed projects. Over the last 21 years, support from Friends of the Smokies members, sponsors, donors, and Tennessee and North Carolina specialty license plate owners has totaled more than $43 million. Visit our website at http://fotsmigrate.wpengine.com

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