LINVILLE, N.C. — For the last year, three elk have been roaming about Grandfather Mountain near Linville. Now, one of them is getting a new home with NASCAR driver Ryan Newman.
The Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation says Doc, named affectionately after legendary guitarist Doc Watson, was damaging the nature park's environment with the other two elk, along with posing a safety issue during rut season. Doc was picked to be relocated from the mountain's habitats, and the search for a new home was underway.
Newman, who is an active conservationist, has partnered with the foundation for this undertaking. Newman has his own personal farm, which will be Doc's new home.
"While we were in the process of working with the state of North Carolina to identify a new home for Doc, we were very particular about the people we would work with,” said Jesse Pope, the foundation's President and Executive Director. “We were very fortunate to partner with Ryan Newman, who has a wonderful facility and a passion for wildlife and conservation. After many discussions with Ryan, we both agreed that selling Doc to him was the right move for all involved."
The 18-time NASCAR Cup Series winner picked Doc up from Grandfather Mountain in early April and said the foundation's work for conservation inspired him to say yes.
"The important thing is that we all get the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, and that’s what’s so cool about Grandfather Mountain. It’s a beautiful place and allows people to see something they wouldn’t see, especially on this side of the Mississippi," he said.
Doc and the other two elk were originally brought to Grandfather Mountain after deer populations rebounded in recent decades. The goal was to help elk become more prominent in the mountains of western North Carolina once again; nearby towns like Banner Elk were named after the animals before the foundation said they were rooted out by overhunting in the late 19th century.
“When we chose to renovate that habitat and bring in elk, we felt like the habitat could support three adult elk,” Pope said. “However, when we got them here, we realized the toll that these heavier animals have on their environment, with their larger hooves and different feeding behaviors. During the rut season, we also started having dominance issues between the three elk, with Doc being the most dominant of the three. We felt like it was a good move to try to find another home for him.”
Christie Tipton, the foundation's Animal Habitats Curator, hopes getting the 800-pound Doc to a new home would help Grandfather Mountain's own habitat replenish and better provide for Merle and Watson, the remaining two elk in the park.
"Caring for the elk has been a learning process over the years,” she said. "Elk are quite different than deer. Their hooves are designed for aerating the soil, which is great for the environment when they’re out in the wild but can be tough for the soil in a smaller area. They also like to chew on all the trees, and the elk like to till up the ground when they are in rut. It has been rough on the habitat."
Fortunately, it's been a smoother path forward for Doc now that he's with Newman. Tipton notes while Grandfather Mountain misses Doc, Newman provides regular updates on the elk's progress. So far, Doc is enjoying his new habitat.