The Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge is home to an elk herd believed to range in number from 100-150. These were observed Tuesday morning. (John Meyer, The Denver Post)

Estes Park will be hosting its annual Elk Fest this weekend to celebrate the rut, educate visitors and offer them a chance to view frisky elk acting on their mating instincts in the wild.

Folks in the Denver area don’t have to drive all the way there to see elk doing what they do this time of year, though. Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge is home to a herd of 100-150 elk, and they were observed running in full gallop on Tuesday about 1 1/2 miles from the park entrance on the north. They seemed to have been spooked by a refuge worker’s truck and gathered in a safe spot, where they could be heard bugling, after sprinting away.

RELATED: It’s frisky elk season in Estes Park, and the mating beasts are a big tourist attraction

“They’re pretty mobile,” said Cindy Souders, a supervisory ranger for the Colorado Front Range National Wildlife Refuges Complex. “They do bed down at night, and you can often see where they’ve bedded down in the grass, but they’re moving around and grazing. They’re definitely acting a little crazier right now because of rut.”

Souders said this herd calves in the spring in some of the shrub drainages at the refuge, where plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons were manufactured during the Cold War. The refuge also is home to mule deer, porcupines, coyotes, monarch butterflies and more than 600 species of plants.

Souders loves to see the elk and knows visitors will, too. She just hopes people will exercise care if they happen to see the shy but majestic animals that Native Americans call wapiti.

“I guess I would really like the big message to be to honor them, give them space and observe them from a distance,” Souders said.

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Elk Fest, held Sept. 28 and 29 in Estes Park, will include bugling competitions, elk exhibits and seminars, education areas and Native American music with dancing and storytelling. Colorado Parks and Wildlife will have a booth to explain how elk can be viewed safely during the rutting season.

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