Roaming elk are at home here in Pennsylvania09-23-2001
Interested in happening upon a magnificent 1,000-pound elk bugling to his mate across a wilderness marsh? There's no need to travel to Maine or Colorado. The largest herd of wild elk east of the Mississippi lies just a few hours' drive northeast of Pittsburgh, in Pennsylvania's Moshannon State Forest.
The bulk of the huge forest sprawls across the northern half of Clearfield County, but it also occupies portions of Elk, Centre and Cameron counties. The vast virgin stands of mixed hardwood forests had been virtually cut down by 1920, and the present woods of oak and pine are the result of natural and planned reforestation.
The forest's Quehanna Wild Area encompasses 50,000 acres in the northern section of the park and is ringed by a 75-mile loop trail, with access at various places. One primary entrance is directly off Exit 18 of I-80.
Along with various state game lands, Moshannon State Forest is the primary range for many of the estimated 700 elk that make up the state's herd. Large tracts were damaged by a tornado in 1985, and the regenerating marshy areas offer excellent opportunities for hardy hikers to get up close and personal with the elk.
Although the experience can be very pleasant, you don't have to hike or cross-country ski miles into the deep woods to gawk at the elk. Two good places that are a bit closer to drive to are the Winslow Hill and Grant areas on state game lands in Benezette Township, Elk County, about 10 miles southeast of St. Marys. It's most easily accessed via Route 555, which intersects with Route 255 between Du Bois and St. Marys.
September and October are prime viewing months, especially with fall colors at their peak, and that's when the bulk of the elk visitors come.
January and February are good months to see elk, when the crowds are gone and snow and bare vegetation make it easier to spot the animals.
The one-week hunting season in mid-November is a good time to stay away, unless you hold one of the 30 permits which have been issued this year.
But remember, elk are wild animals, highly unpredictable and best viewed from a distance with binoculars or a telephoto lens.
For a quick education in elk, check out the Pennsylvania Elk Outdoor Expo Friday through next Sunday. Although most of the activities will be in the village of Benezette, events also will take place in other Cameron County locations.
For information on the Elk Expo: elkexpo.htm>www.pagreatoutdoors.com/
elkexpo.htm or 814-834-3723.
For information on Moshannon State Forest: forestry/stateforests/>www.dcnr.state.pa.us/
For information on Pennsylvania's elk herd: /PA_Exec/PGC/elk/>sites.state.pa.us