Elk Festival helps kick off sleigh rides at Hardware Ranch
Some Utahns are capable of naming the state insect; some the state bird and others even know the state mineral. But few know the Beehive State has a state animal.
A chance to celebrate the Rocky Mountain elk, recognized since 1971 as the state animal, is being held Saturday at Hardware Ranch Wildlife Management Area in northern Utah during the annual Elk Festival.
The ranch, located in Blacksmith Fork Canyon east of Hyrum, was purchased by the state in 1945 in an attempt to curtail elk from raiding hay saved for domestic livestock in Cache Valley.
An elk feeding program was started at the ranch to keep the mammals from leaving the mountains. State wildlife officials say the ranch averages about 350 elk each winter, but more than 500 can be found at Hardware during winters with heavy snowfall.
Managers of the ranch grow hay (around three tons annually) to feed the elk. That feed is augmented with alfalfa and the total feed turns out to be about 10 pounds of food each day for each elk.
To help with the cost of feeding, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources officials offer sleigh rides when there is enough snow wagon rides when it is scarce through the elk on the ranch each winter. The sleigh rides open Friday, the day before the Elk Festival.
The free with the exception of the wagon rides festival runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and includes a variety of family activities, like a chance to make tree ornaments from natural materials found on the ranch.
The visitor center at the ranch, which includes numerous information displays about elk and other wildlife found in the area, will be open during the festival.
Brad Hunt, manager of Hardware Ranch Wildlife Management Area, said elk have been holding in the area around the ranch.
"Some of these elk are starting to make their way into the meadow [where the sleigh rides are held]," Hunt said earlier in the week.
The festival will be held regardless of the weather and location of the elk. Hunt encourages visitors to bring binoculars, cameras and to dress warmly, particularly if they plan on going on the sleigh ride.
Food is not available for purchase at the ranch, but people can bring their own picnic-type meals and eat in a building near the visitor center.
Sleigh rides will be available this winter Fridays (noon to 4:30 p.m.), Saturday and Sunday (10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) and Monday (noon to 4:30 p.m.). Tickets $5 for guests age 9 and older and $3 for ages 4 to 8 can be purchased at the visitor center.
Sleigh rides are not offered Tuesday through Thursday and the visitor center is not open on these days, but people still are welcome to visit the ranch and view the elk from outside the feeding area.
For the record: The state insect is the honey bee; the state bird is the California gull and the state mineral is copper.
Visit Hardware Ranch
Hardware Ranch Wildlife Management Area is 15 miles east of Hyrum on State Road 101 through Blacksmith Fork Canyon. The road is usually plowed by noon after snowstorms. For more information visit the Hardware Ranch website: http://1.usa.gov/1f3ezcU