Elk in Buchanan County. Courtesy of Min Yue.

The Elk Viewing Tour schedule for 2022 in Buchanan County has been released jointly by the Breaks Interstate Park and Southern Gap Outdoor Adventure, which coordinate the tours with the Southwest Virginia Sportsmen, the Southwest Virginia Chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources.

The groups will again offer a spring and a fall viewing tour schedule. The spring schedule runs March 5 through May 15, and the fall schedule runs Aug. 20 through Oct. 29. Booking for the tours opened Monday both through the Breaks Park and Southern Gap Outdoor Adventure. Tour numbers are limited due to bus seating,

“We are pleased to be working with the fine folks at Southern Gap Outdoor Adventure and the many others mentioned to offer elk viewing tours again this season,” said Breaks Park Superintendent Austin Bradley in making the announcement of the tour schedule on the park’s social media pages.

Additionally, the two groups, with assistance from a cadre of volunteers, have built elk viewing stations in several locations which area residents and others utilize throughout the year to get a glimpse of the elk in the habitat plot areas. However, all tours of the area must be arranged through one of the park’s tour partners.

The Southern Gap Outdoor Adventure tour schedule announced last week is as follows:

  • Spring tours are planned on March 5 and March 12 at 4 p.m., and on March 19, April 2, 9, 16, 23 and 30 and May 7 and 14 at 5 p.m.·     
  • Fall tours are planned on Aug. 20 and 27; Sept. 2, 3, 9, 10, 16, 17 and 30 at 5 p.m.; and on Oct. 1, 15, 21, 22, 28 and 29 at 4 p.m.

Th cost to take part in the tours is $35 for adults and $20 for those 12 and younger. The fee includes a light boxed supper and a bottle of water. Bradley noted that almost 15% of the fees paid for each adult ticket are donated back to the sportsman’s club, which has done the vast majority of habitat work in the Buchanan County elk restoration zone. In 2021, the amount donated was almost $2,000.

Volunteer workdays are held annually during which habitat maintenance is performed to include removing rocks and invasive species to painting gates and removing/replacing old fencing and wire. Anyone who has a tractor is encouraged to bring it, if available. The dates for the spring volunteer session are March 25, 26 and 27. A volunteer meet-and-greet will be held at the Southern Gap Visitor Center at 6 p.m. March 25. Volunteers will work at the habitat sites on March 26 and 27. Lunch will be provided and opportunities to hunt for sheds at Southern Gap and at the release site will be available.

Virginia’s elk population was restored after public interest in undertaking an elk restoration program in the state was expressed to the Virginia Board of Game and Inland Fisheries.
In 2010, planning for the reintroduction of the elk into Buchanan County started after an almost 100-year absence of elk in eastern North America, including Virginia. Factors such as habitat loss and unregulated hunting caused elk to become virtually extinct within eastern North America by the late 1800s. Attempts at elk restoration in eastern states during the early to mid-1900s often failed due to a lack of suitable habitat and knowledge of elk ecology.
In Virginia, working with the coal and gas industries on reclaimed surface sites in 2012, the population was reintroduced and has thrived. Reservations are required for the viewing tours which are offered seasonally.

The tours offered last about two hours for travel to and from the habitat site and time spent there. Those attending the tours are reminded to wear clothing and footwear appropriate for the weather and outdoor environment on the day of the tour. Tours depart from the Breaks Park and from Southern Gap Outdoor.

Tours may be booked through the link at Southern Gap Outdoor Adventure found at www.sgadventures.com on the events page, under elk viewing; or by calling the park at 276-865-4413, ext. 3201, or by calling Southern Gap Outdoor Adventure at 276-244-1111.