(WBIR-LAFOLLETTE) This year marks a big milestone for Tennessee's only elk viewing tower.
"The fact that it existed 10 years; the fact that it has not only lasted, but is used more and more, it's a success," wildlife area volunteer Jo Stout said. "We didn't know if we'd make it 10 years."
Stout was one of the volunteers who teamed up with TWRA, Campbell Outdoor Recreation Assocation (CORA), the Tennessee Wildlife Federation and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to build the tower a decade ago.
Hatfield Knob is in the Sundquist Unit, which is part of the 670,000-acre North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area. Out of the area's nearly 600 elk in total, about 30 to 60 elk frequent the Hatfield Knob Viewing Tower daily.
"They built this tower in one weekend," Stout said. "Two days."
"It was a real whirlwind for several years there with trying to get elk in to the U.S. from Canada, and bringing them out and releasing them in an area where they hadn't been in 135 years or so," TWRA Wildlife Biologist Steve Bennett said.
Bennett has also been there from the tower's start. He said he's seen the amount of visitors grow from a "handful" to thousands.
"It's real surprising because we've had visitors, maybe a low of 11,000 up to 16,000 visitors per year," he said.
The tower's creators said this does not only benefit the wildlife area, but also the county.
"We've had as many as 3,000 people in one month according to the surveys," Stout said. "They'll stop somewhere and buy something, bringing money into the county. We're a poor Appalachian county."
Tennessee's Elk Restoration Project started in 2000.
While the tower's many contributors take pride in its 10-year success, they have bigger plans in mind.
"The longterm goal is to increase this elk population to build it up and let it grow," Bennett said.
The best time to watch elk at the tower is early in the morning and late at night. Bennett said viewing is at its peak in September and October.
"Now they're bugling," he said. "You can actually hear them calling to each other and elk are very vocal, even the females."
The tower is open year round.