Elk silhouettes intended to raise wildlife awareness

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Two elk silhouettes now stand adjacent to both Highway 26/89/191 and the multi-use pathway north of Jackson on Fish Hatchery Hill.


May 18, 2018

Not all of Zach Wientjs's high school classes are in a traditional classroom setting. Several times a week, his 4th period class takes place in the Jackson Hole High School's Digital Fabrication Lab, simply referred to as the "Fab Lab." It's here that Zach began an art project now installed on the National Elk Refuge in order to raise awareness and promote caution of wildlife near roadways.

The High School's Fab Lab began in the fall of 2012, offering a cutting edge form of education in a purposefully designed space filled with modern technology, including 3D printers, laser engravers, vinyl cutters, and milling machines. The main focus of the learning setting is for students to develop a deeper understanding of a subject matter through the process of "making," while at the same time integrating multiple curriculum content areas.

Earlier this school year, Jackson Hole Public Art invited several local organizations into the Fab Lab to give an overview of some community projects where an art component could possibly be integrated. As planned, the pitches got the creativity wheels rolling among the students.

It was the idea of a wildlife crossing awareness project that most piqued Zach's interest, prompting him to start thinking of a range of ideas for an attention-grabbing device that would produce measurable results and address one of Jackson Hole's common wildlife issues.

Zach's original thought was to steer away from any type of structure and create something more engaging. He considered the solid, black, wooden cutouts of moose that can be seen on the Teton Village Road, but he wanted something more eye-catching. "I didn't want to simply scare people with what they think is a real animal about to step onto the road," he explained. "I wanted it to be a little more intriguing and unique."

His next idea was to incorporate a speed component, using an electronic device that would broadcast a digital readout in the "belly" of an animal silhouette. After sketching out a few ideas, he decided instead on making two animal cutouts that would light up as vehicles approached.

Zach considered using actual lights but began experimenting with a variety of alternatives and materials. He ultimately settled on covering the animal shapes in microprismatic reflective sheeting, an application which will project bright outlines of the elk when they're captured in a vehicle's headlights.

The figures were completed several weeks ago, making their debut at Jackson's EcoFair last weekend. Zach and Jackson Hole Public Art's staff artist Bland Hoke moved the two profiles this week several miles north of Jackson, where they now stand adjacent to both Highway 26/89/191 and the multi-use pathway on Fish Hatchery Hill.

"This is their home for now," Zach explained, "but we hope to move them from time to time over the summer." He noted cautionary signs are often stationary, leading drivers to become complacent. "This will be like the 'Where's Waldo' of the highway," he added. "It'll keep things fresh and hopefully make people a little more vigilant."

The completion and installation of the art project coincides with the release of a Teton County Wildlife Crossings Master Plan draft, which identifies priority sites for wildlife mitigation and recommends site-specific solutions to improve motorist and wildlife safety.

A printable PDF version of this article with additional photos is also available.