Elk are pictured sparring during the rut.

BENEZETTE — The Elk Country Visitor Center and its Winslow Hill surroundings in Benezette is seeing more and more locals and tourists returning as the COVID-19 pandemic slows.

The center opened its gift shop May 15 during the “yellow phase,” putting extra sanitation measures in place and requiring masks inside the facility.

Most people have been visiting the walking trails, said Operations Manager Carla Wehler. The center also opened its picnic-table area, ensuring tables are spread apart so people can follow social distancing guidelines.

“We are starting to see folks coming back to Elk country,” Wehler said. “People want to be outside, enjoying fresh air and sunshine, walking in the woods and having the opportunity to social distance naturally.”

Wehler said prior to Elk County entering “the green phase” Friday, they were still awaiting more clarification about gatherings.

“We can’t currently do educational programs,” she said. “We expect we should be able to open our theater at reduced capacity, along with our exhibits and Discovery Room, but need more clarification. There has been little to no actual guidance yet.”

The Discovery Room is home to several activities throughout the year, including elk-viewing tips and history, while the 4D Theater offers up-close-and-personal views of the elk in their natural habitat.

“So many opportunities exist to be in nature on trails hiking,” Wehler said. “Kayakers have been out on the waters, people fishing and the wonderful smell of campfires has been a welcoming addition to the mountains.”

As far as elk sightings go, Wehler says this is considered “calving season.”

“For the first few weeks, they will be using the ‘hider’ strategy to keep safe from predators,” she said.

The center is now open on Wednesday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Follow Elk Country Visitor Center on Facebook for updates.

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