In the 1940s, complaints from people in the valley of the Blacksmith Fork Canyon about elk eating their stores of hay began to be more frequent. This prompted the state of Utah to purchase the Hardware Ranch to prevent elk from entering the lower parts of the Blacksmith Fork Canyon and interfering with the settlers in the valley of inner Hyrum. The state then created the winter feeding program to keep elk out of the valley.
Before the ranch was a place for Elk to receive food and refuge during the winter, it was a sawmill during the 1870s, then later home to Utah’s largest Cheese company during the 1890s. Lehi Curtis, who homesteaded the ranch during the late 1860s, was part of the 16th Company of pioneers who emigrated to Utah. The company was led by Lehi’s father Uriah Curtis and had a total of 266 members; it traveled from Kanesville, Iowa in 1852 to Cache County, Utah. Upon arriving at Cache Valley, Lehi helped plan out a road that lead to Blacksmith Canyon. Soon, farmers began to further settle the area.
Hardware Ranch was purchased 8 years after the Pittman-Robertson Act was passed. The act, also known as the Wildlife Restoration Act, allowed for revenue from the sporting arms tax to be used as for restoring and managing wildlife. In 1945, the revenue was used to purchase the Ranch from the family estate of Ernst Lorentz Petersen. The original size of the ranch was 7,560 acres but acquisitions by the state enlarged it to about 19,000 acres.During the first year, 120 Rocky Mountain Elk were fed through the winter. Within a few years the number of elk rose to above 500.
In 1971, The state built an education center with two outside viewing areas to observe the elk. Sleigh rides were also provided to further enjoy the ranch and the local elk. In 1988, the Utah Legislature cut funding support for the sleigh rides. Outrage led the state to approve a fee structure and the sleigh rides resumed.
Although the purpose of the ranch was initially to prevent the Elk from eating the hay from the settlers and to keep the elk out of the lower valley, the ranch has become a popular site in Utah and has had thousands of visitors since its opening. People can bring their children to have very close interactions with the Elk and learn about the history of the Ranch. The ranch also provides researchers with vital information in the preservation of wildlife.
The elk is the state animal of Utah. Once winter forage grasses are covered in snow, Division of Wildlife Resources stadd begin feeding the elk. The feed is grown by the ranch. Soon, between 400 and 700 animals migrate to the ranch for the winter.