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Jana Knapp and her 9-year-old son were driving along U.S. 12 on Jan. 19 when two elk bulls crossed the highway. Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune

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WARRENS – Jana Knapp and her 9-year-old son, Max, have seen elk several times while living in Warrens, a small village in Monroe County located about 45 miles southwest of Wisconsin Rapids. But on Jan. 19 she was finally able to stop and take photos and videos as two elk bulls crossed U.S. 12.

“As a child, we used to drive around and look for deer in the country,” Knapp said. “Never would have dreamed as a kid an elk would cross the road right in front of the car!”

Knapp said it’s wonderful to experience such beautiful animals in her area, and her son thought it was great, too. Knapp said they frequently get to experience all sorts of wildlife in the area, but mostly deer eating cranberries. She said that day, they were lucky to see something a little rarer.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, elk had been widespread in Wisconsin and across North America, but they were eliminated from the state in the 1880s because they lost their habitat and there was unregulated hunting. Now, more than 130 years later, elk have returned to the central and northern forest regions of Wisconsin.

A group of 25 elk was reintroduced in 1995, and another round of reintroduction began in 2015. Now, the elk population is close to 400 animals in Wisconsin.

According to the DNR, the largest and oldest elk herd in Wisconsin is in a range that crosses Ashland, Bayfield, Price, Sawyer and Rusk counties in northern Wisconsin. Another distinct range is found in Jackson County, which is just north of Monroe County.

"We are grateful to have such great views in nature in Wisconsin, and this certainly added to the list," Knapp said. "I hope in the future, an elk sighting becomes less and less rare due to the extensive work, donations, research and time put in by many people to reestablish the elk population in our state. It was wonderful to get to see these beautiful creatures and share that moment with my son. Sure wouldn't want to hit one with my car, though!"

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Contact Caitlin at cshuda@gannett.com or follow her on Twitter @CaitlinShuda.

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