Go ahead, stare all you want. Many of Benezette’s residents are used to the attention.
It’s not rude. In fact, there’s a center that encourages such scrutiny.
The Elk County Visitor Center, www.elkcountryvisitorcenter.com, at 950 Winslow Hill Road in rural Benezette, offers glimpses of the region’s famous wild elk herd, billed as the largest east of the Mississippi River. A lucky glance from viewing blinds or from the center on live game cameras could reveal a 700-pound bull with spreading antlers.
Elk once roamed extensively throughout the state, but they vanished by the mid-1800s from unregulated hunting. In 1913, the Pennsylvania Game Commission began reintroducing elk, the ancestors of today’s population.
Managed by the nonprofit Keystone Elk Country Alliance, the center features panoramic views, interactive exhibits, a 4-D immersive story theater, a gift shop and the hands-on Discovery Room for children.
Around the 245-acre Elk County site, wildlife trails cross fields planted with alfalfa, timothy, clover and winter wheat seeds to entice elk to graze and appear in view.
But the elk’s habits depend on the season.
In the fall, according to the center, bull elk can be seen at the forest edge preparing to battle other males for mating rights. Winter brings the elk into the woods for shelter and warmth.
During spring and summer, however, the elk move into the meadows to feed on grasses — prime viewing opportunities. The center recommends dusk and dawn as the best times for spotting the regal animals.
A word of caution: The elk, though accustomed to visitors, are wild animals and unpredictable. Never approach them, and always keep a safe distance.
If one day isn’t enough, consider staying at the Elk Mountain Homestead farmhouse on the property. The 2-story, three-bedroom lodge sleeps up to 10 people and includes a kitchen and a living room with a fireplace.
Elk also can be seen along the popular Elk Scenic Drive, a 127-mile route through the region that stretches from state Route 144 in the east to state Route 853 in the west. The drive includes 23 sites for viewing elk and other wildlife.
While you’re there ...
• Sinnemahoning State Park,www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/findapark/sinnemahoning
, straddling Cameron and Potter counties, presents 1,910 acres of forest, picnic and camping facilities and a 145-acre lake suitable for fishing and boating.
• Visitors to Elk Mountain Winery,www.elkmountainwines.com
, in Weedville can check out a tasting room, or they can purchase a bottle and relax on the rear deck and savor views of the valley below.
• Straub Brewery, www.straubbeer.com, in Saint Marys adds a bonus to tours of its brewery founded in 1872. The company gives a free glass of beer from its Eternal Tap to visitors of legal drinking age.
• About 13 miles from Benezette, native elk can be found in the Quehanna Wild Area, which contains hundreds of trails for hiking within its 48,000 acres in Cameron, Clearfield and Elk counties. It includes the Wykoff Run and Marion Brooks natural areas, the latter boasting the largest stand of white birch in the state and the eastern United States.