By Cam Huffman
The Southern West Virginia chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation will hold its third annual benefit banquet at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center, and this year, Gus Farris, a spokesman for the chapter, believes the state is closer than ever to reaching its goal of getting West Virginia declared as an elk state.
“I think we’re very close,” said Farris, pointing out his love for the “majestic” animal. “We’re surrounded by elk states now, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are already 300 elk in the southern part of the state that have come across the border from Kentucky.”
Saturday’s banquet will include live and silent auctions, games, drawings for merchandise and a meal. Tickets can be purchased for $25, and the funds raised will be used to provide habitat for elk and other wildlife in the Appalachians and nationwide.
“It’s not all about hunting,” Farris said of the goals of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. “It’s conserving and restoring natural habitats. There are over 600,000 acres throughout the United States that the foundation has secured and that are open to the public. Those areas can be used for hunting, fishing, camping or whatever people want to do.”
Farris said the RMEF has already been active in West Virginia, conducting seminars, shooting sports programs and helping with conservation, and the group’s role within the Mountain State will only increase once it officially becomes an elk state.
West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said earlier this month that it was time to restore elk in West Virginia. The animals were once native to the state, but the last native elk were reported in 1875. The push to get the elk back within the state’s borders is growing stronger each year, and Cabell County Delegate Kelli Sobonya has already announced her intention to pursue legislation in 2013 that would legalize elk hunting in West Virginia.
“We’re a whole lot closer than we used to be,” said Farris, although he said he couldn’t put a timeline on it. “Right now, it’s about securing the herd and growing the herd, so that they have a place to come to. It takes a lot of work.”
In its first two years, the banquet drew about 135 people each year, and Farris said he’s expecting at least an equal crowd this year, if not a larger one.
“We’ve been getting a pretty good response,” he said. “It makes you feel good that people are interested in elk. They’re really unbelievable animals, and to see them in the wild is special.”
For more information or to obtain tickets, contact Farris at 304-673-2376 or Norman Moore at 304-549-3182.