Great Smoky Mountains National Park Looking For Volunteers To Help With Elk Education

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is looking for volunteers to help with their elk education program in the Cataloochee Valley. NPS photo.

Head to the Cataloochee Valley in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and you'll find one of the most beautiful low-country settings in the park. And if you're willing, you can spend a lot of time there this year helping to educate visitors on the valley's elk herds.

That's because park officials currently are recruiting folks to help out with the experimental elk reintroduction project in Cataloochee Valley. The "Elk Bugle Corps" program was created in 2007 to assist rangers with providing visitor information on responsible elk viewing practices and elk behavior and to help with parking and traffic management.

"Last year, the Corps included 58 volunteers from around the area. They donated over 5,000 hours of service and spoke with over 60,000 visitors who came to see the elk. Many of these volunteers are returning, some for their third year, but the volunteer program has room to grow," says Mark LaShell, Cataloochee park ranger.

The park’s goal is to recruit and train a new cadre of volunteers who can commit to volunteering on a regular, recurring basis.

Each volunteer is being asked to work at least two scheduled, four-hour shifts per month starting the last week in May through November. This target period is during high visitor use from late spring during the calving season through the end of fall color season after the elk mating period.

The program’s greatest need is for volunteers to work afternoon shifts that will run from approximately 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. through the summer.

"Although the elk are not as active at this time of day, Cataloochee Valley is still relatively busy and the volunteers have the opportunity to spend more time with individual visitors," says Ranger LaShell.

The volunteers spend their time roving the valley and in past years, Bugle Corps volunteers used a gas-fueled ATV to shuttle around the valley. A zero-emissions neighborhood electric vehicle that was provided through a grant from the North Carolina Solar Center at North Carolina State University, combined with a donation by the Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is now used by the volunteers.

"We feel the program is a win-win situation," says Ranger LaShell. "We continue to receive positive feedback from the Cataloochee volunteers who enjoy working is such a beautiful mountain valley and from visitors who receive a better experience having these volunteers to interact with in an otherwise remote area with no personal services."

For persons interested, an informational meeting and new volunteer training session will be held in Cataloochee Valley at the Palmer Barn on Tuesday, May 5, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Potential volunteers are asked to RSVP to Ranger LaShell at (828) 269-3161. If attending the training session, participants should also bring a bag lunch.


Great opportunity for people living in Western North Carolina or Eastern Tennessee. You get more out of volunteering that you put into it. Have a great time and hope the program is successful.

What a wonderful opportunity! I have been a volunteer with the Elk Bugle Corp in Rocky Mountain National Park for much of the last 10 years. The gentle giants are such an attraction for large groups of people. The genuine awe that viewers have for the elk and a great desire to learn about them is truly inspiring. To be able to stand among them as the herds move past in relative silence is amazing. Participation In Elk Bugle Corps is an honor and a responsibility you won't soon forget. Their amazing antics during the fall rut are a wonder to behold.

I wanted to say thank you for offering a great sight for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
I have been visiting with my family off and on for the last 25 years and it has been a life long trip that has became a tradition, now my kids love to come and hike and adventure in the smoky mountain trails.


Love the Smokies