Rare statue brings attention to TDA's Visitor Center
Those who have driven through Maggie Valley since the Tourism Development Authority opened its doors at its new location may have noticed the immaculate statue of an elk bugling. But what they may not know is the elk’s long journey there.
The bronze statue, which boasts incredible detail for its size, was first purchased by Jim Blyth as part of a pair. The identical statues, originally cast in London, were purchased by Blyth, a Maggie Valley resident, in 2003. While one is at his house, the other sat in front of his business — the appropriately named Elk Country Realty — until about 2011.
However, from then until early 2016, it didn’t have a proper home. But when Blyth heard the TDA had decided to move to Maggie Valley, he knew he’d found a new home for it, and he said he plans on keeping it there until the TDA’s lease on the building runs out.
“We thought we’d lend them the artwork and it’d be appreciated,” he said. “And I think it has been.”
TDA Executive Director Lynn Collins, who worked with Blyth to get the statue in front of the building, has been thrilled with the attention the statue has drawn from visitors, noting that they are always looking for fresh reasons to bring people in.
“Elk are a major tourist attraction, so it worked out well,” she said. “It provides good photo opportunities for people passing through the area.”
The statue is especially timely considering the foothold the elk herds have gained after initially being reintroduced in 2001. Since then, despite not yet being a self-sustaining population, numbers have increased from the original 52 to more than 150.
“A lot of times our visitors are able to see elk right here in the valley,” Collins said. “It’s a traffic stopper.”
And the increased prevalence of the animal has even brought people out with the sole purpose of seeing elk.
“A lot of people come in here and say, ‘I’m here to see some elk. Where can I see them?’” Collins said.
Playing up the presence of elk in the area has been a major selling point for the TDA. Collins noted that they sell plush elk stuffed animals, as well as a few elk books, at the Visitor Center.
But the focus on elk isn’t just all about notoriety or dollars and cents. Both Collins and Blyth want to raise awareness — for both tourists and locals — about how to deal with the fragile elk population.
“We are also concerned with education and making sure the public knows what to do when they’re near one,” Collins said.
As for the statue, Collins — who serves on the Maggie Valley Elk Taskforce alongside Blyth — noted it is beginning to develop a personality of its own. In fact, the TDA is soon going to hold a contest to name the elk. She said part of playing to its image will be bolstering its social media presence.
“He may even show up as a guest blogger,” she said.