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One of the estimated 140 elk living in Cataloochee looks across the valley in June. Colby Rabon/Carolina Public Press

The story of the elk in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s Cataloochee Valley — and the story of the valley itself — has nearly come full circle.

Elk now stand in the open fields where other elk roamed more than 100 years ago. In the interim, more than 1,000 people settled here to build a life and community this valley, erecting homes, churches and schools and establishing farmland.

But similar to those elk ancestors, the people are gone now, largely due to resettlement during the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s development.

First reintroduced in 2001, a new elk herd now populates the valley, attracting thousands of visitors who come to see them and enjoy the beauty of the valley.

Here, Carolina Public Press offers a photo essay on the valley and the herd.

And go here to read more from Carolina Public Press about the elk, the park staff and volunteers, and the visitors who come to see them.

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Colby Rabon

Colby Rabon is a contributing photographer to Carolina Public Press. Contact him at

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