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Unicoi: Where the buffalo roam – again

A herd of buffalo, including calves born in April and June, now call the Town of Unicoi home. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Town of Unicoi is living up to the name Buffalo Valley, thanks to Johnny Lynch.

As a wildlife artist, Lynch, who also serves as the town’s mayor, spent years searching the world for his inspiration. He decided that it would make more sense to find a place that already has natural beauty and expand on the wildlife there for his art.

What he and his wife Pat have created is Farmhouse Gallery & Gardens – a passion project that has been years in the making. Johnny Lynch has created a space where artists, nature lovers, students and an entire community can come celebrate the beauty that is Unicoi County. The Farmhouse Gallery & Gardens has music festivals, is open for tours and provides a venue for weddings or other celebrations. There is even a blacksmith and bakery on site. With all the unique features, one of the favorites is visiting the buffalo.

Centuries ago thousands of buffalo journeyed through the valley and created most of the paths that are used as roads today throughout East Tennessee. As they did in most areas, the large agile animals disappeared.

However, the American Buffalo roam in Buffalo Valley once again after the arrival of several buffaloes to the area. Most recently, three small calves were born in the Town of Unicoi for the first time in over 300 years. One calf was born in April and the other two were born in June.

Lynch said he brought the first buffalo back to the Town of Unicoi about three years ago. One of the biggest obstacles he faced was getting a fence that could hold the wild animals.

“Not only are they large and wild, but they are extremely fast,” Lynch said. “They can outrun a horse and stop on a dime.”

Once the fence was in place, the buffalo followed. The females were brought in from Paint Bank, Virginia, and the bull was brought in from Wolcottville, Indiana. Lynch stated that it is currently mating season, which can run up until October. If the mating takes, then in 9 months there may be new residents in the Town of Unicoi.

Due to the size of the buffalo, the birthing process occurs naturally with no outside help. The mother will separate from the herd to give birth. After the calf is born, the mother will keep the calf away from the herd for a few days to get acclimated. The calves are cinnamon colored when they are born and eventually become a darker shade of brown.

The first born calf in the Town of Unicoi, which was born back in April, is already a dark brown so it shouldn’t be long before the calves born in June to start to darken. The proud father, Sammy, is happy to come take a photo while the mothers and calves are a little more reserved. The buffalo live to be around 30 and the oldest ones on site are right around 3 years old.

There are many other features besides the main attraction to see while visiting Farmhouse Gallery & Gardens. Roaming around the land are numerous peacocks, bees, otters, rabbits, groundhogs and many organisms that live in the pond. The peacocks have just shed their feathers, but will regrow them sometime before the end of December.

Classes from all over, including East Tennessee State University, come to study the ecosystem. Not far from the pond is a bakery, complete with an earthen oven. Inside the bakery, Pat was baking fresh bread and cinnamon filled the air.

For more updates and schedule of events, please visit the Facebook pages of both the Farmhouse Gallery & Gardens and the Town of Unicoi.