As many of you know, I go a few times a year to Cataloochee, NC to visit the elk population and photograph them.  It is normally a great experience, but what I am about to tell you totally blew my mind.  It was the most unprofessional, panicked overreach of power I have witnessed to date from a park volunteer.

The bull who was so mischievous 

Setting the Scene
First, let me just say that Cataloochee has become a hot spot for viewing elk in North Carolina.  It is part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and when I first started going there, it did not have near the volume of people I saw yesterday. There were hundreds of vehicles going through that day on a narrow road that is not meant to handle that kind of capacity. Let me just say that owning a Ford F-150 was not an advantage at all in this situation.  If you are going to travel these parks, do not buy a large vehicle.  Get a small 4x4!

There were two volunteers and a park ranger working the crowd and controlling traffic.  They were spread out across the the herd.  So far, so good.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this and in fact I encourage the use of volunteers for this type of work.  Someone has to be there to manage the masses.  A handful of humans is easily managed.  Hundreds of humans can become a real handful.

In front of a line of intermittent spectators was the main herd being herded by a fairly large bull.  The bull was doing what bulls do. He was following the females and checking to see if they were in estrus.  During this time (the rut), the male can get very agitated (mostly with other bulls) and can charge.  There is always a possibility of this and the workers have to be careful to watch the spectators.  OK, so all is well with what I have said so far.  This is completely normal and to be expected.

How it Unfolded
As the alpha bull started getting more restless, so did one of the volunteers.  She was in fact so concerned that she was starting to panic.  At one point the bull had wandered close to us while sniffing a female.  I calmly walked behind a vehicle just to be safe.  My movement behind the car apparently sent the park official into overdrive as she began barking orders.  "Get inside a vehicle!  Everyone here get in a vehicle! I don't care if it is not your vehicle get in it!"  I seriously thought she was going to lose her mind and this of course cause the people to get a little panicky.  I was worried all this commotion and panic would cause the bull to get into a rage. If you also want to cause a people stampede, this is how you do it. Sadly, this woman reinforced the false stereotype that all women are a panicky and hormonal type and can't keep a cool head.

How the Situation Should have Been Handled
I may not be the brightest bulb in the box, but unless you are actually being charged, causing that amount of panic is not a wise thing to do.  Calmly back up, speaking clearly and carefully to everyone else.  Let them know that there is potential danger, but don't get panicked!  Acting or speaking in a panicked voice may get you or others hurt!

The way the park ranger handled the situation was completely different from the volunteer and much more effective.  He calmly walked up to the group a people and said, "Have you ever played football?"  Then he pointed to the bull.  He said, "That bull is right about 50 yards from us.  Just keep that distance at all times and you will be fine. You guys are doing good.  Just keep that distance." 

I suspect that this is really a matter of training.  We had a volunteer who probably took her job way too seriously and probably was not being kept in check by park rangers.  It is hard to find help and good volunteer help is next to impossible.  I know, because I have worked in volunteer organizations my whole life.

It should also be noted that the second volunteer, an older lady, did a great job of helping and keeping the situation under control without panic.  She drove the cows back when needed and let people know about the 50 yard rule with grace.  How the first woman was able to keep her job while acting in this manner was beyond my comprehension.  I was so embarrassed by her.  I also felt bad for the rest of the staff.

The final concern that needs to be addressed at Cataloochee is the size of the road.  They need to make this two lanes with as many parking and pull offs as they can reasonably accommodate..  The volume of people has reached a point where it is almost an expand or die proposition.

Having said all this, they didn't stop me from enjoying the elk and all their tomfoolery.  All in all, despite the above, I enjoyed myself.  Just being out there among God's creation is enough for me.