Elk are abundant in Estes Park now, just in time for Scottish festival

Mark Igel doesn’t check the calendar to know when to expect the annual influx of amorous elk and the first September cold snap in Estes Park. Both events always seem to coincide with the beginning of the Longs Peak Scottish-Irish Highland Festival, which began Friday and runs through Sunday.

“I’m not kidding,” said Igel, owner of The Taffy Shop on the town’s main street, Elkhorn Avenue. “The elk are abundant. They’re not as amorous yet as they will be, but they are everywhere. This weekend is always like Mother Nature and the elk watch the calendar for the Scottish festival. We’ve been running the air conditioner for weeks, and we turned it off this morning because the Scottish festival starts today.”

Sure enough, overnight temperatures in town dipped into the lower 50s Thursday night and are forecast to drop into the 30s Friday and Saturday nights.

The Scottish festival includes athletic competitions, jousting duels, Celtic bands and a parade with bagpipes, drummers, dancers and clans in tartans. It is said to be the largest gathering of its kind between the Mississippi River and the west coast.

The peak of the elk mating season, known as the rut, is likely to occur near the end of the month or in early October — the town’s Elk Fest event is set for Oct. 1-2 — but this is the time when they assemble in large numbers in and around town to the fascination of tourists. Igel has some advice for those seeing them for the first time.

“People who have never seen an elk stop their cars, hold up 60 cars, and they’re waiting for elk to cross that are 30 feet from the road,” said Igel, whose shop has been selling salt water taffy since 1935. “Everybody who lives here knows elk don’t dart across the highway. It’s the deer you have to watch for.”

Wildlife authorities always caution elk watchers to keep their distance from the enormous beasts. Males can weigh 1,000 pounds, and mating season can make them edgy. Last year a bull charged a man who got too close and knocked him to the ground.

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