CLATSOP COUNTY, Ore. — In this week's Let's Get Out There, we're heading to Jewell Meadows Wildlife Area where you can view huge herds of elk and if you're lucky, feed them too.
Jewell Meadows Wildlife Area is a hidden gem off Highway 202 in the Coast Range. About 30 minutes east of Astoria, the 1,114-acre area is maintained by the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW).
"This tract of land is…designated refuge," said Braden Erickson, a senior fish and wildlife technician with ODFW. "Really other than these tours, there's no public access year-round to this section."
It's possible you'll see mountain lions, coyotes, eagles, and other birds of prey. In the winter months, you’re almost guaranteed to spot grazing herds of Roosevelt elk, and if you’re lucky, you can even feed them alfalfa hay on the tours Erickson alluded to. There are other elk feeding programs across the state; Jewell Meadows is the only place where the public can participate.
"We have an opportunity for the public to come out through the months of December, January, and February and participate on a hay wagon ride where we get to feed elk and viewers get the opportunity to actually feed them themselves and get up close and personal with some wildlife," Erickson said.
Erickson, a wildlife biologist, has been with ODFW for five years, at Jewell Meadows for three of those. Beneath an overcast sky, six visitors were on one of the first tours of the season. "In the herd that we're feeding today, we have about 120 elk," Erickson said. "They vary day to day."
The population of elk is substantial on the refuge. They know they're safe here, and they also know where the food is! Cows usually weigh in around 500 to 700 pounds, while the bulls can weigh over 1,000 pounds.
"If you're coming out here for a feeding tour, I would expect to see anywhere between 60 to 100 elk," Erickson said.
Reservations opened on Dec. 1 and are highly coveted. The only way to reserve a spot is to call 503-755-2264. Erickson said they usually fill up in a matter of hours. While the tours are completely free, you will need a wildlife area parking permit. Cost is $10 per day or $30 for the year.
Erickson said the only way to reserve your spot on a tour is by calling. If none are available, you can cross your fingers and hope for a cancellation.
Kim Johnson was one of the lucky ones. She took a tour with her boyfriend and his family.
"I didn't expect there to be so many of them, to be honest," she said. "But this is way more than I was expecting. So this is awesome."
The feeding tours are a unique opportunity for the public to get up close to wildlife in a natural setting and reduces wildlife damage to surrounding private lands.
"It's a great opportunity for people to get involved with wildlife in a somewhat controlled environment where they can safely feed wildlife," Erickson said. "It's not something that we usually recommend to people outside of our program. So being able to be a part of that where we can curate an experience for them is really valuable."
For more information on the elk feeding tours at Jewell Meadows, visit: myodfw.com/jewell-meadows-wildlife-area-visitors-guide
Let's Get Out there airs once a week on KGW's 4 p.m. newscast and The Good Stuff, which airs Monday-Thursday at 7 p.m. We're including viewer photos for this series. You can text your photos to 503-226-5088 or post them on the KGW Facebook page.