JASPER — Officials with the Buffalo River Elk Festival announced Friday that the festival has been canceled this year, but the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission said elk hunting permits will be drawn for electronically.

The festival was set for June 26 and 27, but Arkansas Department of Health restrictions on large group gatherings forced the cancellation.

“This decision was a difficult one to make, but the health and safety of our community is paramount,” a social media post said. “We are looking into dates later this year when we might be able to celebrate after restrictions change.”

AGFC officials say the drawing of elk hunting permits, one of the largest draws to the festival for many Arkansas hunters, will be conducted this year using the same electronic drawing system used for turkey, deer and alligator hunt drawings.

“Applicants won’t have to do anything extra to enter the online drawing,” said Wes Wright, elk program coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. “Instead of printing out the applications and loading them into a squirrel cage, it will be done by a completely random digital system by a vendor outside of the AGFC just like the rest of our draws.”

Wright says the three elk hunting permits normally reserved for applicants who enter at the festival will be included in the online draw, bringing the total permit count available for the drawing to 23.

“This is obviously not ideal, and we hope to continue the elk permit drawings at the festival next year, but we also want to give hunters the opportunity to hunt elk this year and to have as much time as possible to prepare for their hunt,” Wright said.

Applicants who successfully draw an elk permit will be notified via email as well as by phone, and the list of this year’s hunters will be publicized once the draw is concluded.

Festival officials were still optimistic in making the announcement.

Anyone interested in applying for an elk hunt permit in Arkansas has until 11:59 p.m., June 1 to visit www.agfc.com to complete their registration.

“Thank you for your understanding and support, and we look forward to seeing you in 2021,” the post said.

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