By Pamela Pyms
Visit NC Smokies, Haywood County’s Tourism Development Authority, along with a host of other sponsors, will present its inaugural Smoky Mountain Elk Fest, on Friday, September 13, from 6–9 p.m. and Saturday, September 14, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the scenic Maggie Valley Festival Grounds.
A catered event on Friday night, Taste of the Wild, will feature a variety of wild game dishes. The evening will also include a silent auction and live bluegrass music performed by Ol’ Dirty Bathtub. On Saturday, the entertainment continues with live music, performances, displays and food vendors.
“These are two separate events,” says Brindley Faile, Visit NC Smokies digital marketing and PR manager. “Saturday will be packed with family-friendly activities and a phenomenal live music lineup.” A variety of country artists will perform, including Andy Griggs, known for his Cajun country flair and hit single, “You Won’t Ever be Lonely.” Kaitlyn Baker will also be playing, along with Pandora’s 2019 Country Artist to Watch, Jordan Brooker. Haywood County’s own The Maggie Valley Band is among the favorites, as well as Ol ‘Dirty Bathtub with a second performance. The Brothers Gillespie will be there singing rock and roll they call Cosmic Americana.
Cultural performances by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, a clogging performance and other educational activities are planned, as well as opportunities to shop for crafts and wildlife art. Photography contests, guided hikes, elk habitat tours, a NASCAR display, timber sports and plenty of local food vendors will fill out the day.
“The Elk Fest celebrates all the hard work the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation have done to reintroduce wild elk into the Cataloochee Valley,” says Faile. The mission began in 2001, after about 200 years of elk absence in the area. The original herd consisted of 25 elk brought over from Land Between the Lakes National Recreation area on the Tennessee/Kentucky border, into the Great Smoky Mountains. In 2002, they imported another 27 elk, and over the years the herd has grown into the hundreds. They are now most commonly seen in the early mornings and late evenings in various areas of the national park.
The Elk Fest’s proceeds will benefit the recently established Elk Conservation Fund. Its mission is to protect the elk, provide habitat maintenance and continue the research that will help the elk thrive in the Cataloochee Valley. “It’s particularly exciting because one cow recently gave birth to her first calf at the protected Graveyard Fields, which means they are spreading out,” says Faile. “A cow will go to the same place every year to give birth again.”
To learn more about the event, go to VisitNCSmokies.com. Tickets are $40 for Friday’s Taste of the Wild and $5 for the entire day on Saturday, with children under 12 admitted free. Maggie Valley Festival Grounds is located at 3374 Soco Road, Maggie Valley.