(WJHL) – After years of work reintroducing elk to Southwest Virginia, the once widespread creatures have made their way back into Breaks Interstate Park.

The park posted to social media Friday with photos of bull elk on park property. In the post, Breaks officials wrote that this marks the first time elk have been seen in the park’s area since the 1800s.

News Channel 11 spoke with the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) in December regarding the agency’s efforts and success in reintroducing elk to Southwest Virginia. The DWR maintains an Elk Management Zone (EMZ) in Buchanan, Dickenson and Wise counties.

Jackie Rosenberger, Elk Project leader of the DWR, said in December that elk were nearing the park, and the agency and the park were working together on a 5-acre project that could serve as a habitat viewing area.

According to the park’s post, the DWR and park officials have been working for the last two years to prepare Breaks for the elk habitat. Efforts included removing invasive species and planting native grasses.

On Friday, the park’s post stated that the elk are drawn to the nearby Willowbrook Golf Course due to the potential food on the fairways. However, park leadership plans to draw the elk away from the golf course toward the park where visitors can view them.

Additionally, plans are in place to open trails at Break where visitors will have a higher chance of spotting the elk in their natural habitat.

Rosenberger told News Channel 11 that elk once spanned almost all of Virginia, but by the late 1800s, the population in the Commonwealth had been eradicated due to overhunting and habitat loss. After failed attempts to reintroduce them in the mid-1900s, the DWR found success with neighboring Kentucky’s help in 2012.

Since then, elk populations in the EMZ have flourished, allowing the DWR to host its inaugural bull elk hunt in 2022 after a successful lottery for six licenses generated more than $500,000 for conservation efforts.

The DWR has opened its lottery for the next hunt in the fall of 2023.