Build it and they will come! Terry and Jane Lewis live that mantra to the fullest and are now forever remembered for it.
Terry and his wife Jane live on a farm in the heart of Tennessee’s elk range. But when they first arrived in the Cumberland Mountains in 1980, there were no elk. Working as members of the Campbell Outdoor Recreation Association (CORA) in 1988, the Lewises learned about the possibility of restoring elk to their historic Tennessee range. They jumped at the opportunity by attending dozens of meetings for both the public and stakeholder groups—one of which was the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Along the way, Terry became an RMEF Life Member and he and Jane served as volunteers on the RMEF Royal Blue Chapter.
In December 2000, thanks largely to Terry and Jane’s efforts, they witnessed elk return to the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area, next to their farm.
“Hatfield Knob is an old, reclaimed strip pit, mountain top removal, basically, where they took a couple of hundred feet off the top. It had grown up significantly and had some pretty flat areas in there,” Terry recounts. “I went to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) and said, ‘The elk really like to be here. Let’s put a food plot.’”
TWRA did not have the manpower or resources to follow his request so Terry asked if he could go ahead and do the work himself. And that’s exactly what he did. On their own dime and their own time, Terry and Jane labored three years of weekends to clear away brush and plant a four-acre food plot on Hatfield Knob. The result? Elk loved it!
“Jane and I would sit out there in the lawn chairs at the edge of the food plot behind a blind and watch these elk…every single weekend. We couldn’t wait to get there,” recalls Terry.
They also noticed there was a slight rise in elevation to the east of the plot—a perfect spot to build a viewing platform. Terry again went to TWRA and floated the suggestion. He said he didn’t receive any “push back,” so utilizing his contractor skills, they paid $4,000—again, out of their own pocket —for lumber and supplies. On August 25, 2005, about two dozen volunteers from different organizations, including RMEF, TWRA and CORA, built a viewing tower about 15 feet off the ground (see photo below on left). Terry and Jane also constructed an entrance, a rest area and an informational kiosk for visitors.
RMEF supplied grant funding for surveys which University of Tennessee statisticians used to figure out that between 16,000 to 22,000 visitors make the trek up the mountain to the viewing tower every year to see wild elk, with their own eyes, on their native Tennessee range.
Part of the public expectation for returning elk to the Volunteer State was to set up an annual elk hunt. That finally happened in 2009 and the Lewises, once again, were at the heart of the action. They transformed their farm into a headquarters with wall tents and horses for participants to pack out their elk. They hosted 250 people in all and supplied 815 meals over four and a half days as part of Tennessee’s first-ever modern elk hunt.
Fast forward to 2022 when the old, wooden tower came down 17 years after its construction. Terry supervised its removal. And who was in the middle of constructing a new one to replace it? You guessed it!
“I was the designer. I was the guy who put the financing together with the agency. I was the contractor. I’m the guy who still plants all the food plots,” says Terry.
Sure enough, a larger, sleeker, more durable, two-level steel tower now rises above Hatfield Knob (see photo below on right). Dedication day in August was a celebration attended by many dignitaries, community members and, of course, Terry and Jane Lewis.
But they did not expect to hear these words booming over the loudspeaker: “Today, we are naming this tower the Terry and Jane Lewis elk viewing tower!”
“It was a total surprise,” says Jane.
“I think it was the best-kept surprise. We had no idea,” adds Terry. “It’s been a long journey. We certainly want to thank all of the volunteers that helped put this tower together and this viewing area for all the people to come and see. One of our efforts was to create a high probability of viewing opportunities and I think you have it right here.”
Visitors continue to stream to Hatfield Knob to see elk and habitat work to support the herd only continues—but now TWRA pays for the seeds and Terry plants them in the ground. And the Lewises continue to enjoy the benefits of their labor.
“We have lots of elk on our property and it’s kind of like a reward for some of the things that we’ve done,” says Terry.
“It’s a project of love. We love the wildlife. We love seeing elk,” says Jane. “They’re such a magnificent, majestic animal.”
Go here to watch a video of the elk tower dedication.