Close encounters of the moose kind at Aspen’s Maroon Bells
June 30, 2017
One of the biggest challenges for the U.S. Forest Service team at Maroon Bells Scenic area is convincing people to give moose plenty of space.
"This is not Disneyland," said Shelly Grail, recreation manager for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District.
There are four to six moose regularly sighted in upper Maroon Valley this year — cows and yearlings. No new calves have been spotted yet this year.
In past summers, the Forest Service would close the scenic loop trail around the lake when a moose was nearby. The management plan has been changed. The agency doesn't have the personnel to monitor moose then close and reopen trails. Instead it relies on signs that warn people to stay at least 100 yards away and the voluntary compliance of visitors.
"Last summer we were fortunate not to have any issues at all," Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Karen Schroyer said.
Joe Kayafas of Aspen Trout Guides frequently takes clients to Maroon Lake and the creek that feeds it. Moose sightings aren't uncommon. He educates his customers as well as people he encounters to give the massive ungulates wide berth.
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"That's their house, not ours," Kayafas said.
He and a group of anglers recently spooked two moose hanging out in the willows near the lake. The anglers turned around and fished a different spot than originally intended a safe distance away. The moose got up and foraged nearby, ignoring them. Everybody was happy, Kayafas said.
Last year, Kayafas spooked a bull hiding in the willows and had to take evasive action as the big fella charged down the trail and into the parking lot.
"People were running and ducking," he said.
Kayafas believes most issues with moose could be eliminated if people just kept a safe distance away. He has seen too many people try to get closer for a picture.
"Some people say, 'They're super dangerous,'" Kayafas said. "Well, only when you provoke them."
Grail said the biggest danger is when people walk their dogs, particularly when they are illegally off leash. Moose perceive dogs as wolves, one of their only natural predators. So the moose attempt to stomp them.
"A dog off leash, a moose and a dog owner can be a recipe for disaster," Grail said.