Rio Grande Trail gets different kinds of users |

Rio Grande Trail gets different kinds of users


CARBONDALE – An annual monitoring program of a seasonally closed 2-mile stretch of the Rio Grande Trail in the midvalley typically produces some awesome wildlife pictures. This winter is no exception.

Motion-detection cameras set up by wildlife biologist Jonathan Lowsky, under contract to the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, produced a picture of a cougar prowling the snow-covered trail in broad daylight during a February day. The sleek animal’s attention was captured by something along the river so it’s looking away from the camera. Nevertheless, the shot hints at the size and power of the animal.

The picture of the mountain lion was one of several shots RFTA posted Monday on its Facebook page. Another eye-catching picture is a night shot of three coyotes lurking on the dry trail. Two of them are looking toward the camera, eyes aglow. The bushy tail of the third is clearly visible.

Wildlife is always popular in the Roaring Fork Valley. The RFTA wildlife shots had more than 50 “likes” from viewers as of Tuesday afternoon.

Lowsky was traveling Tuesday, so he was unavailable for an interview about what differences, if any, he sees in wildlife use this mild winter. He replaced three older cameras with more high-tech ones in 2010, so he’s been getting better shots of a diverse array of animals, from ungulates to small mammals and predators. The cameras use infrared light at night rather than a flash so they don’t spook the critters.

RFTA closes the 2-mile stretch of trail from Rock Bottom Ranch to Catherine bridge, upvalley from Carbondale, from Dec. 1 through April 30 each season to preserve wildlife habitat. RFTA has monitored wildlife use of the stretch since the trail was built so it could establish baseline data for annual comparisons. Lowsky has said on multiple occasions in past years that the closure is effective in keeping animals active on that stretch of the corridor. The area is important for deer and elk which come down from Bureau of Land Management property known as the Crown to the Roaring Fork River, Lowsky has said.

Some people would like to lift the winter closure, while others want it extended by a few weeks. RFTA’s board of directors has stood pat with the original closure.

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