In the northeastern area of Michigan’s lower peninsula, signs will soon be posted to warn drivers on M-33 of the massive elk roaming back and forth across this state trunk highway, where a herd has bedded down on one side.
This December, five elk have been struck by vehicles in this woodsy area within a two-week period, and three of them were killed, Michigan Department of Transportation says.
So MDOT is erecting permanent elk crossing signs in the area between Onaway in Presque Isle County and tiny Atlanta, which is known as the Elk Capital of Michigan, in Montmorency County.
Jon Sklba, a Michigan Department of Natural Resources conservation officer assigned to Presque Isle County, helped lead the drive to get the signs posted. He says a herd of about 20 elk are bedding on one side of the highway and have been crossing over for food sources. Sklba says he expects the herd to remain in the area for the foreseeable future.
Having three elk killed within only two weeks is definitely out of the ordinary, he says.
The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) will be putting up the permanent elk crossing signs that feature a silhouette of an elk. In the past, thieves have made off with such signs, and if that happens again, MDOT will switch to lettering only, a spokesman said.
In the forests surrounding unincorporated Atlanta, famed as the Elk Capital of Michigan, driving around looking for these graceful creatures is a favorite pastime of locals, cabin-owners and tourists.
But even locals could be caught off guard by elk crossing in this unlikely spot, where they’ve found a new bedding area – let alone others passing through on this state trunk highway, James Lake, a Michigan DOT spokesman, tells Equipment World.
Though there’s no mistaking when an elk’s in the road – a large bull could weigh 600 to 700 pounds – those drivers who may not be expecting to see them bound onto the highway in these parts could be startled with little time to react, officials say.
“Hitting an elk not only does massive damage to a vehicle, but also has the potential for injury to the driver and passengers, so it’s a real safety concern,” warns Eric Precord, maintenance coordinator for MDOT’s Alpena Transportation Service Center (TSC).
“We want drivers to be aware so we can avoid any more of these crashes.”
For more information about Michigan’s elk herd and range, visit the Michigan DNR’s website at michigan.gov/elk.