Rio Grande Trail reopens, fate of mountain lion kittens unknown
The Rio Grande Trail was reopened between Rock Bottom Ranch and Catherine Bridge on Wednesday after a lack of mountain lion activity for a week, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority announced.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers gave the green light to open the trail, according to Brett Meredith, RFTA trails manager. The 3-mile section of trail was closed June 28 after numerous pedestrians and cyclists spotted three cougar kittens. Wildlife officials said at the time the kittens appeared healthy. They feared the mother would potentially attack people in defense of her kittens if she perceived danger from people getting too close.
Perry Will, an area wildlife manager, said Wednesday it’s difficult to say what happened with the kittens.
“Either nature took its course with the kittens or the female moved them,” he said.
Whatever happened, Will said, it is better than wildlife officers intervening.
That section of the midvalley is prime wildlife habitat. It’s between the Roaring Fork River and the Crown, public land held by the Bureau of Land Management. That stretch of the trail is closed Dec. 1 to May 1 every year for the benefit of wildlife.
Wildlife officers set up three cameras in the vicinity of where the cats were spotted to monitor their activity. Carbondale District Wildlife Manager John Groves said the last time he personally saw some of the kittens was July 12. The last day the cameras spotted them was July 13.
The motion-sensor cameras never spotted the mom. A stealthy adult cougar might be able to avoid detection, Will and Groves said. Groves noted the kittens were physically spotted in various places, sometimes along the trail, other times on a game trail up the hillside toward the Crown.
The cameras did pick up numerous bears in the area. If a bear discovered them and the mom wasn’t around, the bear would have made a meal out of them, Groves said. Bears are opportunists, he said.
Groves said he has searched the area where the kittens were spotted but found no sign of them, alive or dead. The brush is thick, he noted.
“I’m hoping for the best but there’s no definitive proof of what happened to them,” Groves said.
The cougar spotting caused a stir after photographers posted pictures on Facebook of the cute kittens. People started hitting the trail specifically to find the cats — something Groves warned against in a prior interview.
The Rio Grande Trail attracts hundreds of users per day and into the thousands on weekends. RFTA has heard from both people that wanted the trail reopened and those that supported the closure, Meredith said. The trail was temporarily reopened July 5 because the kittens hadn’t been spotted for some time. It was abruptly closed that same day after a new sighting.
Will credited people with honoring the closure and expressing support for the course of action. The cameras indicated no one trespassed into the closure area.
“People were damned good about it,” Will said.
RFTA got the trail reopened at 8 a.m. Wednesday.
Any wildlife activity should be reported to Meredith at 970-384-4975 or Colorado Parks and Wildlife at 970-947-2920.
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