Michigan is home to one of the largest herds of elk east of the Mississippi, with most of the animals living in the northern Lower Peninsula’s Pigeon River State Forest. And in the nearby city of Gaylord.
The other evening on my way to the Upper Peninsula I took a short detour from I-75 to see the creatures within the fenced Elk Park next to, yes, the fraternal Elks Lodge, just a couple of miles from the interstate off South Otsego Avenue and Grandview Boulevard near beautiful downtown Gaylord.
There were six or seven folks—including a young couple with a picnic basket snacking and sipping—gathered near the high fence to watch the elk at this free viewing area. The population of elk is about 70 in the 108-acre park but I could spot maybe 15. Although they were a distance away they were still impressive due to their size: some of the males stand 6′ tall and weigh 800 pounds.
For the best viewing and photos bring your binoculars and a long lens for your camera, although a friendly lad on his bike (a regular at the site) said the elk do come to the fence. He offered to show me his secret way through the barrier so we could enter the pen and see the massive animals up close, but I declined his generous invitation.
Native elk lived in Michigan until about 1875, and were reintroduced to the Lower Peninsula in 1918. The population is now estimated at 800-900 free roaming elk.
If you want to see elk in the wild head to the Pigeon River Country Elk Range, where the herd is most active in September into October and again in April and May.
Elk Park is off of Old 27 South (S. Otsego Ave.), south of Main Street, east of I-75.
Gaylord is located in Area B on the map.
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All photos and stories copyright Kath Usitalo unless otherwise noted.