While we don’t have the Grand Canyon, the Statute of Liberty, the Gateway Arch, Mount Rushmore or the Giant Redwoods, we do have the beautiful Ozark Mountains in Northwest Arkansas. And the scenery here is some of the best in the nation.
Back when I was traveling and working as a businessman consultant with our schools, I had speaking engagements in 72 of our 75 counties. Because it is so sparsely populated, the Ozarks was one area of our state that I had not visited a good deal. This changed to some degree recently when Janis and I decided to spend a few days in Branson, Mo., and we took a side trip to the Boxley Valley in Newton County in the hopes of seeing some elk that are residents there.
At one time, elk populations numbered in the millions and occupied habitats across most of North America. However, shrinking habitat and overhunting reduced these large populations to a few persistent herds in the West. Back in 1933, The USDA Forest Service introduced Rocky Mountain elk in Franklin County, Arkansas, but in a few years they disappeared, with speculation that illegal hunting, natural mortality and shrinking habitat caused their demise.
Then in 1981, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, in cooperation with private citizens, initiated another elk restoration project in the Ozark Mountains. Between 1981 and 1985, 112 elk from Colorado and Nebraska were released in our state, with all release sites near the Buffalo National River. The AGFC monitors the elk herd with the cooperation of the National Park Service. The Arkansas elk range covers approximately 315,000 acres, of which 85,000 is public land. Through field observation, records on public comments and non-hunting mortalities, today the herd is estimated at about 450 animals, enough to have a permit-only, closely monitored, elk hunting season.
As their numbers grew and more and more people became aware they could actually see these magnificent creatures, they began to flock to this area of our beautiful state. There are several areas where elk can be observed, but one of the best is Boxley Valley, where the highway, lush green fields and the Buffalo River run side by side. The best time to see them is during the rut season in September and October and then only early in the morning and late in the afternoon.
For Janis and me, here is where fate took over. On the day we had planned to visit the viewing site, we left home about 9 a.m. After stopping for lunch, we would have been there in the middle of the day, where our chances to see elk would have been slim and none. But
when we got to Clinton, where we planned to eat, we discovered that we had failed to turn off the coffee pot, so we turned around and went all the way back home. This delay caused us to arrive at Boxley Valley around 4:30 p.m. As we drove along, we observed a number of cars stopped along the road, and they were observing three very large bull elk out in the field.
Of course, we stopped and viewed them as well, and took some pictures. When we headed back to Jasper, around 5 p.m., we stopped at the Buffalo River to observe this fantastic and natural resource. However, before leaving decided to drive a couple of miles back down the road where we had seen the elk. This time there were probably 100 elk out in the field, all sizes, and they were so beautiful. Here is a great website: www.arkansaswildlifephotography.com.
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