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Elk back from the brink in virginia.

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By Larry Bleiberg

June 14, 2024

Tour guide Avery Rose has heard the call hundreds of times, but it never fails to move him.

The noise—a deep bellow called bugling—is the male elk’s mating call, and every fall it echoes throughout the mountains in Southwest Virginia. “It’s the sound of the wild,” he says, “eerie and majestic.”

I’m standing with Rose at a mountaintop overlook, and the sound is coming from a meadow below. A gang of elk, their antlers silhouetted on the horizon, are shuffling about, stirring up dust with their hooves. Suddenly, a pair of bulls face off in battle, clashing their antlers and bugling to attract nearby females. Even from 100 yards away, the sound is mesmerizing and mysterious.

The scene resembles something you might only see in a nature documentary. But tours at Breaks Interstate Park , located about 375 miles west of Richmond on the Virginia–Kentucky border, now allow visitors to watch this mating ritual live. Making the experience even more amazing is the fact that these animals had been extinct in Virginia since 1855. Thanks to recent conservation efforts, the elk are making a comeback.

A conservation success story

Prior to the colonization of North America, plenty of elk roamed the land from Georgia to Maine, with the Eastern subspecies thriving in Virginia west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. But as the country grew, the elk lost their habitat and fell prey to hunters. The last elk was shot in Pennsylvania in 1877, and the subspecies was declared extinct on the East Coast. Only in the West did elk continue to thrive, mostly in the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest.

Breaks Interstate Park Superintendent Austin Bradley.

Park Superintendent Austin Bradley holds an elk antler, which can grow to nearly 5 feet wide. Photo by Larry Bleiberg

Over the years, biologists made several attempts to bring elk back to Appalachia, but the animals couldn’t survive in the region’s woodlands, according to Park Superintendent Austin Bradley. The 2 species are biologically similar, but the slightly larger Eastern elk subspecies lived in forests, while Western elk graze on open plains.

Eventually, biologists made a surprising discovery: Appalachia’s reclaimed mine sites make a perfect habitat for Western elk. The restored sites—where companies once blasted mountaintops to reach layers of coal—are now meadows, which allow for grazing, and the surrounding woods provide protection from summertime heat.

Other states also found success with mine sites. Kentucky, for example, welcomed its first relocated herds in 1997; now it has more than 10,000 elk. Herds have also been reestablished in Tennessee, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

Inspired by Kentucky’s success, several conservation groups in Virginia teamed up in 2012 to bring 75 animals from Jenny Wiley State Park in Kentucky to a 2,600-acre reclaimed strip mine site in Buchanan County. This time, the elk thrived. Today, they number more than 300, populating several sites throughout the region.

“This is a native species that has reclaimed its natural range on reclaimed land,” says Jackie Rosenberger, the elk project leader for the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources. The agency helps organize the Breaks Park tours along with the Southwest Virginia Sportsman’s Club and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Rosenberger says this success story is worth celebrating.

Herd mentality

Male elk mating call.

Fall tours focus on the noisy mating season, when male elk emit a deep sound to attract females. Photo by Ronnie Hylton/Breaks Interstate Park

One way people can celebrate the return of the elk is by taking a tour to see them in their natural habitat. And fall is a fascinating time to visit. “Testosterone is high, which makes for some amazing scenes that you’ll get to see,” says Bradley. “The dynamic of the herd is completely different at this time of year.”

A large male, the dominant bull, rules over the herd, gathering a harem of up to 40 cows. Lone males, known as satellite bulls, linger at the edge of the group. “They wait for the dominant bull to be distracted so they can sneak in and try to grab a girlfriend and pass their traits on to the next generation,” Bradley says.

Each year, the park offers about 35 tours. Fall outings, like this one, center on mating practices. On spring trips, guests might see newborn calves. In both seasons, white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, and even bears might also be spotted.

Nancy Swain drove 6 hours from Spotsylvania County, near Fredericksburg, for the tour. “I’ve never seen an elk in person,” she says. “They’re humongous.” Indeed, these mammals are about 5 times larger than their relatives, the white-tailed deer. Males can weigh up to 750 pounds and their antlers can sprout to nearly 5 feet wide.

Male elks clashing.

During the fall mating season, male elk often clash antlers to show off their strength and dominance. Photo by Ronnie Hylton/Breaks Interstate Park

Because of the animals’ size and brute strength, Bradley warns us visitors to be cautious while on the tour. We’re also instructed to speak softly to avoid spooking the elk. These are wild animals, and a clash between bulls could result in collateral damage. “If your driver says it’s time to get back on the bus and he seems nervous, he has a reason,” Bradley says. “Just get back on the bus.”

Even after working with elk for years, Rosenberger says she still finds these animals—and their comeback story—inspiring. “I never get tired of hearing their bugling. They’re very charismatic. You’re not going to hear sounds like these anywhere else.” Visitors often feel the same way, she says: “We have people who get emotional seeing the animals, hearing the bugles, and just experiencing the whole setting.”

Breaks Interstate Park elk tour tour bus.

Guests are driven around Breaks Interstate Park in a tour bus and can see the animals from the windows as well as from an overlook in the park. Photo by Larry Bleiberg

Elk tours ($35, including a boxed meal) are offered by reservation on select Friday and Saturday evenings March through mid-May and mid-August through mid-October.

Book a trip online or by calling (276) 865-4413 ext. 3201. Guests who can’t board the bus can follow in their own car. Avoid wearing brightly colored clothing and strong fragrances.

Breaks Interstate Park, known as the Grand Canyon of the South, offers a full slate of outdoor activities, including hiking, zip-lining, fishing, kayaking, biking, and birding. Park accommodations include a motel-style lodge, cabins, cottages, a yurt, and a campground with wooded sites and RV hookups (rates vary; $3 per vehicle entry fee for the park).

Charlottesville-based writer Larry Bleiberg is a frequent AAA Explorer contributor.

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Geographic coordinates of Elektrostal, Moscow Oblast, Russia

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Coordinates of Elektrostal in decimal degrees

Coordinates of elektrostal in degrees and decimal minutes, utm coordinates of elektrostal, geographic coordinate systems.

WGS 84 coordinate reference system is the latest revision of the World Geodetic System, which is used in mapping and navigation, including GPS satellite navigation system (the Global Positioning System).

Geographic coordinates (latitude and longitude) define a position on the Earth’s surface. Coordinates are angular units. The canonical form of latitude and longitude representation uses degrees (°), minutes (′), and seconds (″). GPS systems widely use coordinates in degrees and decimal minutes, or in decimal degrees.

Latitude varies from −90° to 90°. The latitude of the Equator is 0°; the latitude of the South Pole is −90°; the latitude of the North Pole is 90°. Positive latitude values correspond to the geographic locations north of the Equator (abbrev. N). Negative latitude values correspond to the geographic locations south of the Equator (abbrev. S).

Longitude is counted from the prime meridian ( IERS Reference Meridian for WGS 84) and varies from −180° to 180°. Positive longitude values correspond to the geographic locations east of the prime meridian (abbrev. E). Negative longitude values correspond to the geographic locations west of the prime meridian (abbrev. W).

UTM or Universal Transverse Mercator coordinate system divides the Earth’s surface into 60 longitudinal zones. The coordinates of a location within each zone are defined as a planar coordinate pair related to the intersection of the equator and the zone’s central meridian, and measured in meters.

Elevation above sea level is a measure of a geographic location’s height. We are using the global digital elevation model GTOPO30 .

Elektrostal , Moscow Oblast, Russia


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  22. Elk Make a Comeback in Virginia

    Thanks to recent conservation efforts, herds of elk are once more roaming the state of Virginia after a 200-year absence.


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  24. Elektrostal Map

    Elektrostal is a city in Moscow Oblast, Russia, located 58 kilometers east of Moscow. Elektrostal has about 158,000 residents. Mapcarta, the open map.

  25. Geographic coordinates of Elektrostal, Moscow Oblast, Russia

    The coordinates of a location within each zone are defined as a planar coordinate pair related to the intersection of the equator and the zone's central meridian, and measured in meters. Elevation above sea level is a measure of a geographic location's height.

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  27. Elektrostal

    Elektrostal. Elektrostal ( Russian: Электроста́ль) is a city in Moscow Oblast, Russia. It is 58 kilometers (36 mi) east of Moscow. As of 2010, 155,196 people lived there.