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Why 2 dozen elk live at a Richmond-area military facility

Posted at 1:17 PM, Aug 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-07 06:53:36-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- You might forgive drivers zipping by for not giving a second look. It’s hard to see much of anything outside the well-fortified walls, but inside the Defense Supply Center of Richmond, relics of the U.S. military’s past fly frozen in time from F-18 fighter jets to Cobra helicopters.

Tradition runs deep at the 600-acre facility which opened at the dawn of WWII, according to chief of the Environmental Management Division within Defense Logistics Agency Installation Management Richmond Jimmy Parrish.

“The Commonwealth considers this whole area a historic district,” Parrish said.

But one piece of the past trumps them all. It has nothing to do with military might or muscle.

Every morning Kim Griffin and Russell Ragin tackle one of the most important jobs at the installation. The colleagues collaborate and fill buckets of food for the landmark’s most interesting residents.

A herd of elk.

Bellwood Elk.jpg

Known as the Bellwood Elk, the animals roam free on 22 acres of pastures and woods. Russell and Kim have grown to admire the Elk.

“When they pose they’re very beautiful,” Ragin said. “They’re really beautiful. They know they want you to take their pictures or something. Yeah!”

Kim Griffin did not expect to add this task to his resume.

“The guys behind me retired so someone had to step up to the plate so or bucket,” Griffin said.

The wild beasts aren’t new arrivals.

“Even before they put the first shovel in the ground and built the first building the elk were already here,” Parrish said.

In the late 1800s, farmer James Bellwood purchased the land.

“Bellwood House was built by the Gregory Family and it was built in 1804,” Parrish said.

The native of Canada missed home so much he imported a couple of elk.

“He actually went out to Yosemite National Park and brought some back and their ancestors are with us now,” Parrish said.

In 1941, the Bellwood family agreed to sell their land to the Federal Government with a stipulation.

“They said, ‘I’ll sell you this property under one condition.’ And that condition was the War Department promised to take care of the elk. Forever,” Parrish said.

Generations of Bellwood Elk have now called the facility home.

“They are part of our history,” Parrish said. “They were here before we were and they’ll be here long after most of us are gone. We’re very, very proud of them.”

Parrish, who oversees the Elk, said the herd was a source of pride and conversation starter.

“It is a big surprise. It is a big surprise going to Department of Defense conferences and I tell them we have elk and they’re like, ‘What?’” he said.

The 14 females and ten males aren’t pets.

“These are wild animals,” Parrish said. “They’re certainly not tamed.”

For Kim Griffin and Russell Ragin, their breaks come with perks.

“For me, it is a relaxing atmosphere to come out and watch the elk and read your book. Eat your lunch or whatever you know,” Ragin said. “They don’t talk back.”

The Bellwood Elk contend as the most unlikely attraction at a military facility. At the Defense Supply Center of Richmond call it heritage with hooves.

“I love here. 20 plus years,” Parrish said. “This is the greatest job I’ve ever had. People don’t normally see that. We have dogs and cats as pets but you can’t say you go to work with an elk.”

If you would like to see the Bellwood Elk there is a viewing stand along Jeff Davis Highway. If your group of students is interested in seeing the Elk up-close contact: Defense Logistics Agency Aviation Public Affairs Office 804-279-3139

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