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North Highway 89 Pathway to Open Early

04_22_14_PathwayOpening_ArticleRefuge Manager Steve Kallin announced today the North Highway 89 Pathway will open for nonmotorized public use beginning Wednesday, April 23, eight days before the scheduled opening on May 1.

April 22, 2014 (14-13)

Refuge Manager Steve Kallin announced today the North Highway 89 Pathway will open for nonmotorized public use beginning Wednesday, April 23, eight days before the scheduled opening on May 1. Teton County Parks & Recreation will be sweeping the pathway this week as their schedule permits.

Last fall, the National Elk Refuge announced it would develop criteria to be tested this spring, using the number of animals remaining on the Refuge and the potential for conflicts with migration as the basis for an annual decision to open the pathway early. Kallin explained that if large numbers of elk migrated off the Refuge early, dropping the number of remaining animals to the May 1 long–term average of approximately 2,500 elk, the pathway could potentially open prior to the established date.

GPS collar data shows that peak spring elk movements occur during the second and third weeks of April. This season was no exception. On Saturday, April 19, roughly 5,000 elk remained on the south end of the Refuge. Elk numbers dropped significantly during the remainder of the weekend as large numbers of animals migrated off the Refuge, with many elk moving to the sagebrush flats just north of the Gros Ventre River and south of the Jackson Hole Airport. By April 21, the number of elk remaining on the Refuge had dropped to 1,300 animals.

The 5–mile segment of the pathway is subject to an annual closure as part of a condition of the agreement between Teton County and the National Elk Refuge for pathway use on U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service property. Unlike neighboring federal lands with multiple recreational opportunities, the National Elk Refuge is mandated to prioritize habitat conservation and wildlife management, adhering to a “wildlife first” mission when considering or allowing public uses. The seasonal closure of the pathway maximizes benefits to important wildlife habitat and migration corridors and allows the Refuge to be in compliance with its mission and purpose.

Pathway users are reminded that animals will continue to disperse and move from their winter ranges toward their summering sites. Animals can be wary of the presence of humans and may respond to cyclists and pedestrians by bolting onto nearby roadways. Motorists are also advised to be alert for animals that cross roads unexpectedly.

The Refuge Road will remain closed to public travel beyond the Twin Creek subdivision until 8:00 am on May 1, giving public access to the Curtis Canyon and Flat Creek Roads and adjoining the Bridger–Teton National Forest. Access regulations are available for individuals traveling through the Refuge to the National Forest on or near May 1.

For further information on Refuge road or pathway seasonal closures, please call the National Elk Refuge administrative offices at 307.733.9212.

Last Updated: Apr 22, 2014
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