Ensuring the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

DC Area Chapter Celebrates Silver Anniversary in Grand Style

It turns out you can have your cake and eat it too, especially when the U.S. Navy’s second-in-command provides the goodies! So that’s exactly what members of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s Bull Run Chapter did at their recent annual big game banquet in Middleburg, Virginia.  

Admiral Michelle Howard and her husband Captain Wayne Cowles (retired USMC), both long-time RMEF members and active chapter participants, donated a cake to celebrate the chapter’s 25th anniversary. The evening included dinner, silent and live auctions, giveaways and plenty of stories, smiles, handshakes and hugs.

 Admiral Michelle Howard (right)
It was also a night to revel in the return of elk to their native Virginia range. A multi-year project to restore wapiti to the Old Dominion state wrapped up in 2014. The 71 released elk now number 130 or more with an additional 50 calves due in May. The goal is to grow the heard to about 400 and eventually institute a regulated hunting season.

Below are thoughts and experiences of two long-time members, Danny Smedley and Caroline “Tinker” Frazier, who lovingly reminisced about the chapter’s early days:

Caroline "Tinker" Frazier and Danny Smedley
For me it all started with a Bulge magazine I bought during my first visit to Yellowstone in the summer of 1990. I sent in my membership application and later that year I received a call from Kurt Ballantyne, who was previously the chairman of the Denver Chapter. His BLM job had relocated him to Washington, DC where he called all the RMEF members around the DC area and asked us to come to just one meeting.  That meeting was the start of the National Capital Area Chapter which was later renamed to the Bull Run Chapter. Our first committee consisted of about a half dozen guys and our first banquet netted $6,000.  We thought we did great considering my wife told me no one would come to a fundraiser for elk—an animal that most people around DC had never seen. 
Danny Smedley

We brought the RMEF into the next generation when our National Capital Area Chapter launched the first ever RMEF website.  After fielding questions about membership renewals, where to hunt elk and missing magazine subscriptions, we renamed the chapter to honor and remember the Civil War battlefield in our area – Bull Run – and have never looked back. 
Tinker Frazier

During our first banquet my wife and I were seated with John and Tinker Frazier who we had never met before. My wife won a brief case filled with $500. John and Tinker had such a good time that they joined the committee. Our second year we raised $7,000 and during our wrap-up meeting that year, Bradley Clarke asked what were the goals for the chapter? We agreed on a plan and within a year or so our banquets were averaging $30,000 net.
Danny Smedley

John and I attended the first banquet, sitting next to Danny’s wife. After I spilled a glass of wine on the table, she won the briefcase full of money – talk about motivating us to join the committee! 
Tinker Frazier

I remember when our chapter was asked to participate in a local sports show. We arranged to borrow a full size elk mount. As most people around the area had not seen an elk, the show promoter mentioned the RMEF and the elk mount in the show's newspaper and radio ads. The evening before the show started we were setting up our booth and waiting on our elk to arrive. But the guy with the elk was running late and the show promoter was getting nervous. Finally the guy who had promised to bring the elk called and told me sorry but he had sold the elk mount a couple of weeks before the show. After a few frantic phone calls I located the elk and had it on display minutes before the show started. The show owner was happy and he provided our chapter a complimentary booth at his show for years. 

A taxidermist friend stopped by our booth at the sports show and told me he heard about our challenges with the elk mount. He gave me a challenge: bring him a full cape and he would make sure our RMEF chapter had its own elk mount. After an elk hunt with eight committee members, I was luckily enough to bring back a full cape and Lewis Lee of Lee's Taxidermy donated a full elk mount and Mr.  Bull was born. Lewis has donated to our chapter each of our 25 years. Mr. Bull has traveled all over Virginia to banquets, sports shows and schools during my tenure as RMEF state chair and is still going strong with our current State Chair Cathy Funk.

My oldest son was an active child and when he was about two. I remember placing him on Mr. Bull as if he was riding a horse. My son was thrilled.  Now my son is almost 24 and a member of our committee.   Our banquets have turned into a family event with the entire family attending and both my sons helping on the big day. 
Danny Smedley

The chapter always prided itself in keeping a family flavor to each event providing merchandise and fun targeted to the ladies and our next generation of hunters – the kids. We felt unique in that way, and knew that our efforts would lead to a big pay day in the future. 
Tinker Frazier

Kentucky elk release
In the late 1990's as state chair, I worked with Dr. Parkhurst of Virginia Tech on a feasibility study for the re-introduction of elk in Virginia. Everyone was excited that we might get elk in Virginia. Our excitement was short lived as our game commission rejected the program. At the same time Tom Baker was state chair in Kentucky and on December 19, 1997 (my wife's birthday), members of our committee and I traveled together to Hazard, Kentucky, to see the first elk released there. We were thrilled to see the release and could not have imagined that in May 2012 we would see the ancestors of those Kentucky elk released in Virginia
Danny Smedley

For more than 10 years we sold and resold an inflatable elk head along with a plaque containing the list of successful bidders. The winning bidder won the right to keep the elk head for a year and then we sold it again. Finally our inflatable friend developed a leak and was retired to a box in my garage with the rest of the chapter history. 

As a committee we have hunted elk together, bird hunted, shot skeet, attended life events and become friends. Those friends and committee members have included doctors, lawyers, computer scientists, financial advisors, business owners, a veterinarian, CPAs, many enlisted personnel -even a 4-star admiral- and people from all walks of life. I really learned my best lessons in managing people by leading a committee of volunteers!
Danny Smedley

In the politically-charged Washington, DC arena, our passion and commitment to the mission of the Elk Foundation was a rarity and motivated us through many adversities and naysayers. Staying true to the vision and mission, we persevered, and celebrated when elk were returned to the Commonwealth. We will always treasure the friendships we have made over these precious years, and can’t recall those days before we were a tight knit family. 
Tinker Frazier

Oh the memories and the friendships and all for a great cause. One I strongly believe in as noted on my license plates which reads RMEF. Here's to another 25 years!
Danny Smedley

Virginia now has more than 2,500 members in eight different chapters.

Kudos and a big “thank you” go out to our volunteers and members in the DC area and all across the nation who support RMEF’s conservation mission. 

Elk back on their native Virginia range

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