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Record number of visitors participate in refuge sleigh ride program

01_02_14_Rides_ArticleNational Elk Refuge sleigh rides proved to be a popular activity over the Christmas holiday, with a record number of participants enjoying the unique wildlife viewing experience.

January 2, 2014 (NER 14-01)

National Elk Refuge sleigh rides proved to be a popular activity over the Christmas holiday, with a record number of participants enjoying the unique wildlife viewing experience. In the week following the Christmas holiday, 4,728 people rode on a sleigh to view wintering elk, with a record ridership of 862 people shuttled onto the Refuge via 55 sleighs on Saturday, December 28.

Sleigh rides are the Refuge’s most popular educational program and are an exciting way to observe and photograph wildlife. In addition to elk, passengers routinely see coyotes, bald eagles, trumpeter swans, ravens, and other wildlife. Passengers are reminded that while elk are generally acclimated to the sleighs, they can easily be spooked by loud noises or unexpected movements. Riders are not allowed out of the sleighs near the elk because the recognizable sight of a human on the ground stresses the animals, causing them to bolt from the area. Minimizing human–caused stresses and repeated unnecessary movements are critical to the health and survival of wintering animals.

This winter, Refuge and sleigh contractor staffs have noticed an increase in the number of people pulling off Highway 89 onto the shoulder of the road and approaching the fence, which is designed to decrease conflicts between vehicles and animals. The North Highway 89 pathway, located on Refuge land between the highway and fence, is closed from November 1 through April 30 for the protection of wintering animals. A human presence on or near the pathway affects wintering animals at a time when they need to conserve energy. “Though the signs may not be visible to an observer, the distinguishable form of a human triggers physiological responses in animals,” explains Refuge Manager Steve Kallin. Those interested in viewing wildlife are required to use pullouts on the highway and remain near their vehicle in the established parking areas.

For an additional opportunity to enjoy the abundant wildlife wintering on the Refuge, winter naturalists offer wildlife viewing excursions five days per week to those interested in a guided tour along the Refuge Road where elk, bighorn sheep, waterfowl, and other animals can frequently be seen close to the roadway. The program, which lasts approximately two hours, is free of charge.

For those that prefer to explore the Refuge Road on their own, a free publication is available at the Jackson Hole & Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center and on the maps link of the Refuge’s web page. The Refuge Road Wildlife Viewing Guide indicates designated parking areas and outlines safety information regarding both driving and approaching wildlife. “We encourage wildlife watchers and photographers to enjoy the scenery and wildlife, but we want them to do so in a safe manner and one that doesn’t disturb the animals,” Kallin added.

Photos of wintering elk, winter sleigh rides, and wildlife viewing excursions are featured on the National Elk Refuge photo gallery.

Last Updated: Jan 03, 2014
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