Collared Elk

THE CELEBRATED ELK — There is little doubt that the reintroduction of elk into the Cataloochee section of the Great Smokies National Park has helped drive tourism numbers up in Haywood, and especially in the park’s Cataloochee entrance.

Part of Haywood County’s tourism allure has always been the festivals planned by various organizations. The types and themes of the festivals have varied through the years, but all have the same goal — to offer a reason to visit the county or provide yet another activity for those who live here or were coming here anyway.

Some festivals, such as Folkmoot USA, spring from a passion of its founder. In this case, Dr. Charles Border felt strongly that sharing music and dance would foster international goodwill. The idea caught on, has endured for over 40 years and birthed what later was designated as North Carolina’s official folk festival.

Other festivals have been centered on a key local attribute — one that logically fits in with what Haywood has to offer. There was PlottFest, which celebrated the Plott hound’s local roots and its eventual designation as the state dog. There was the Trout Festival that lasted a number of years and spotlighted the mountain streams in Haywood — all of which originate within the county’s boundaries — and all they provided.

Other festivals celebrate mountain music, Appalachian arts/crafts or even the “one old crab” in Cruso, referencing the community entrance sign proclaiming “9 miles of friendly people and one old crab.”

Many festivals run their course in a few years, but inevitably are replaced by a crop of new ones to fill out the latest list of reasons for potential visitors to plan a visit to the Smokies.

The latest festival also uses an already popular tourist anchor as its theme — elk.

Since the majestic animal was reintroduced into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, visitors have flocked to view them. Some need go no farther than Maggie Valley, where at least several elk regularly roam, especially during the winter months when grazing is slim in the park boundaries.

Planning a festival to offer visitors a deeper insight into this species is an idea whose time has come. The festival has the opportunity to delve into many of the nuts-and- bolts issues of how the herd has grown and is being managed, but also incorporate an element of festival fun into the event.

What else is rare about this event is that it is being organized by the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority, an entity that generally uses funds that flow from the 4 percent occupancy tax levied on overnight accommodations to help fund other groups that plan events.

If the Smoky Mountain Elk Festival is successful, it could offer a whole new twist on how tourism funds are used to promote the county, as well as offer a new array of festivals to entertain visitors and locals alike.

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