The Hatfield Knob Elk Viewing Tower at the Sundquist Unit of the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area in Campbell County opened in 2005. Since then, thousands of wildlife enthusiasts have been able to consistently view the first wild elk herd to roam Tennessee since the 1860s.
“The reintroduction of wild elk in Tennessee and the construction and management of the viewing tower have been big successes for Tennessee in general,” says Mike Butler, chief executive officer of Tennessee Wildlife Federation. “It has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve been involved with in my 19 years with the Federation.”
Between 2000 and 2008, 201 elk were released by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) on the Royal Blue and Sundquist Wildlife Management Areas. Butler says that most TWRA surveys now place the number of elk at around 600.
TWRA volunteer Terry Lewis—a longtime Federation board member and current board chair—and his wife, Jane, designed and purchased building materials for the viewing tower. The Lewises erected the structure with the help from volunteers of the Campbell Outdoor Recreation Association (CORA), Tennessee Wildlife Federation, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, other volunteers, and TWRA personnel from Area 41, the Royal Blue Unit crew of the North Cumberland WMA, and TWRA elk biologist Steve Bennett. The Lewises still maintain the tower to this day and use their own equipment to plant and cultivate wildlife habitat and food plots.
“The elk viewing tower has been and continues to be a labor of love for us,” says Lewis, a business owner based in Knoxville. “It’s been quite a lot of work, but totally worth the effort. Seeing these amazing animals back on native Tennessee soil is incredibly rewarding.”
A study conducted by the University of Tennessee at Knoxville concluded that the tower is visited some 16,000 times per year by a variety of both in- and out-of-state tourists, making a significant positive impact on the Campbell County economy.Visit the Elk Viewing Tower
Featured photo by Dr. David Sloas