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Elk Shun Official Viewing Spots for Benezette, PA, Yards

Elk Herd of Benezette, PA

The largest elk herd in the east, about 552 as of the last count in 2003, roams wild in western Pennsylvania. There are elk viewing areas around Moore Hill in Cameron County and Benezette in Elk County. The NE PA Great Outdoors provides a driving map and a brochure they’ll mail you.

For travellers, the great thing is the easy access. Western Pennsylvania is where you’d want to stop overnight on the way to the midwest–it’s roughly halfway and it’s easily the most gorgeous area you’ll see on the way. The place to see elk are less than an hour off Route 80. Probably the easiest thing is to head to Benezette. When we visited in Jan., 2006, we toured the local official viewing areas. Some you just pull off the road and watch from your car, others have elaborate blinds or seated viewing areas. We got the consolation prize of tracks, but saw no elk. The woman at the Elk View Diner told us to check out the churchyard in town. Didn’t see any, but when we stopped at the Benezette Store and Restaurant, the man casually told us there were two bulls across the street. (He also said they can usually be found in town.) Sure enough two massive elk were chewing on a lawn. The owner came out and shooed them away.

That’s somewhat unusual. Most are very into the elk. There are elk decorations everywhere and endless elk-themed businesses. (Wapati is the native name for elk that you’ll see everywhere, too.) The man at the store said that he, and most around here, don’t ever get tired of seeing the elk. There’s also an Elk Farm, to visit, buy elk jerky, or stay overnight.

Many signs warn you against just stopping on the roads. The animals are gentle but do weigh up to 1,000 pounds, you’re ill-advised to get out, much less approach. They’ll put down their antlers towards you to tell you to buzz off. We circled around to keep seeing them and we weren’t alone. They wandered across a few yards, then plopped down on an empty lot to nap.

The big tourist season for the elk is the fall rut because they’re most active. The locals like the winter because you can see the elk through the trees better. As always, dusk and dawn serve as the animal rush hour and you’re best bet is to try then.

The native Eastern Elk was hunted to extinction in the are area in 1867. Starting in 1913, Rocky Mountain Elk were initially wiped out, but were reintroduced from Yellowstone in 1918. Hunting nearly wiped them out again so was stopped from 1931 to 2001. A local elk authority, retired biology professors Gary Ferrence worries because the hunt, pushed by hunters as a way to cut the growth of the herd, which increasingly was butting up against human development, has already reduced the herd by 10 percent.

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