118 volunteers from across Virginia and West Virginia converged on a snow-covered ridge near Grundy and War fork, Virginia, the last weekend of March 2022.
Over the next two days, volunteers completed what John Taylor, treasurer of the Southwestern Virginia RMEF Chapter, would call “the most successful workday we’ve ever had.”
The crew coiled and hauled away over two truckloads of abandoned barbed wire fencing and removed rocks from habitat food plots to make work less damaging to tractor wheels and axels. Invasive species were pulled from a pollinator area, fruit trees were planted, new pole fencing installed, and land cleared for new food plots.
“This is truly elk country now,” says Taylor. And the elk were happy to show their appreciation. On Saturday morning, a herd of over 50 animals greeted the volunteers as the sun began to warm the mountain. “They were very relaxed around us,” remembers Taylor. “They seemed to know we were there to help.”
While typically seen as a western problem, barbed wire is also a hazard across Appalachian elk country. “As the land changed hands over decades, the barded wire that was used as property line markers or to keep hogs and cattle in the woods, was forgotten and now isn’t functional,” says Taylor. “We pulled up strands that were half-buried and half-attached to trees. We don’t want elk or any other animal to get caught up in that. These mountains are pretty steep, and we had some guys chase wire plum to the bottom of a hill!”
But it wasn’t all work and no play for this event. At dinner Saturday night, raffles were won, and the group was treated to a herd update from Jackie Rosenberg, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (VADWR) elk biologist. Shed hunting was also on the table over the lunch hour and horn was found and admired among the volunteers.
While nearly three quarters of the volunteers were RMEF members, staffers and volunteers from Breaks Park, VADWR, The Nature Conservancy, Southern Gap Outdoor Adventure and the Woods, Waters and Wildlife Foundation were also present and helped make the project a success.
The over 25 acres of land enhanced during the project is a mix of private and public ground where Virginia’s first modern elk hunt will take place this coming fall. VADWR is working to open public hunting access on this private land. This work shows landowners the benefits of sharing their property with hunters who care.
“A lot of people are seeing that the elk can be here,” says Taylor. “They want to be a part of helping the herd. Not everyone can give a lot in the way of money, but most everyone can come out and cut down some wire and volunteer their time. This work makes it personal for them.”