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Elk once freely roamed all over Pennsylvania but the rapid settlement and exploitation by early immigrants threatened the herds. By 1867 there were no more elk in Pennsylvania. Unregulated hunting and habitat loss were the biggest factors of their demise.
In 1913 the Pennsylvania Game Commission began reintroducing elk in Pennsylvania. The elk herd we know today originated from 177 elk that were trapped and transferred to northern areas of Pennsylvania.
The reintroduction of elk took place from 1913 through 1926. The releases in north-central Pennsylvania were successful and the herd now numbers more than 800.
Visitors can easily see the majestic elk in areas of Elk, Cameron, and Clearfield counties. Considered to be the heart of Pennsylvania elk country, the town of Benezette is located along State Route 555 in Elk County. To reach the public viewing area, start at the Benezette Hotel and travel north along Winslow Hill road 3.5 miles. Follow the signs to the viewing area. Elk can also be seen along the roadways in the free-roaming herd range located in Elk and Cameron counties. The Moore Hill area in Cameron County is a favored viewing spot of local elk enthusiasts.
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Cow elk normally give birth to a single calf in late May or early June. The calves are speckled with spots to complete their natural camouflage. Twins are a rare occurrence and happen less than one percent of the time. Normal gestation period is approximately 8 1/2 months. After a short amount of time, the cows and their new calves rejoin their family units comprised of cows, their calves and immature yearlings. Most yearling bulls will only grow spike antlers.
The mature bull's antlers are fully grown by August and they now spend much of their time thrashing trees and shrubs with their antlers. Normal antler growth is up to 6 tines per side. A "royal" bull is one with a total of 12 points. An "imperial" bull has 14 points. September and October mark the mating season for the elk. While the beginning of the rut may vary somewhat from year to year, the unmistakable invitation of bugle of a bull elk can be heard echoing throughout the range. Bugling can be heard primarily during the rut or mating season. It starts as a low bellow and continues as a squealing or whistle. This is followed by several grunts.
The elk form harems of 15 to 20 cows, which are controlled by a mature bull. The bull has earned his status to lead his harem by fighting off lesser bulls for the opportunity to breed with these cows. Lesser bulls often mate also, the large bull will contain the group and be the prime breeder. These harems remain together for the duration of the breeding season. Cow elk are receptive to breeding for only about an 18-hour period. If they are not bred successfully, they will have two or three breeding cycles at 21-day intervals.
The elk remain in large groups throughout the winter months. They must dig through the snow to find grass, twigs and buds. They will eat the bark off trees and drink from the streams to sustain for the winter. The bulls loose their antlers in the late winter or early spring.
Pennsylvania's elk range covers approximately 835 square miles in parts of Elk, Cameron, Clearfield, Clinton and Potter counties.
Opened in September 2010, the Elk Country Visitor Center sits on 245 acres on Winslow Hill in Benezette. The area is home to the largest elk herd in the northeastern United States. The 8,400 square foot eco-friendly building has a stone fireplace to greet visitors and a panorama of windows looking out on the elk viewing areas. It also features a 4-D theater presenting a multimedia experience that will immerse you in the sights, sounds and smells of a mixed hardwood forest and the natural world of the elk. There is also a gift shop, observation areas and viewing blinds. Experience the elk on a horse-drawn wagon ride!
Seeing an elk for the first time is an extraordinary experience and something you will never forget!
134 Homestead Drive Benezette PA 15821
Elk Country Visitor Center
(814) 787-5167 | ElkCountryVisitorCenter.com
Premiere elk viewing and conservation education facility with 4D theater, interactive exhibits, live forest cams, horse-drawn wagon rides, gift shop and much more.
The Elk Country Visitor Center is a premier elk watching and conservation education facility. The center is operated by the Keystone Elk Country Alliance whose mission is “To conserve and enhance Pennsylvania's elk country for future generations.” The 8,400-square foot eco-friendly building has a warm and welcoming stone fireplace to greet visitors, a “Great Room” with exhibits and interactive displays telling the story of elk, other wildlife and the Pennsylvania Wilds region. Our panorama of windows look out on the picturesque beauty of Pennsylvania’s elk country and our wildlife habitat plots. A “Story Theatre” presents a multimedia experience to immerse the visitor in the sights, sounds and smells of a mixed hardwood forest, the natural world of the elk and native wildlife and the heritage of the region. The site also includes a gift shop of “Made in the USA” products, most by local and regional artisans, exhibits, a touch and feel Discovery Room and a series of wildlife watching trails, observation areas and viewing blinds.
Our Gold Certified, LEED building is a classroom its self, with each aspect of the building design becoming a project for classroom interaction. Those schools and groups that are unable to physically make the journey to Elk Country are able to participate through our new and innovative “Distance Learning” program where we take Elk Country to classrooms everywhere via the internet.
The center makes a terrific stop for school groups to experience our exceptional educational programs and hands on learning experiences designed specifically for age specific learning.
Use 950 Winslow Hill Road Benezette in your GPS.