Snowmass Village trail closures help elk during spring calving season |

Snowmass Village trail closures help elk during spring calving season

Jeanne McGovern
Special to The Snowmass Sun
A herd of elk graze in the fields off of Owl Creek Road in Snowmass last summer.
Anna Stonehouse/Snowmass Sun

Snowmass Village might be asleep for offseason, but the area’s elk herds are more active than ever as calving season is well underway.

In order to protect this sensitive process, town officials in collaboration with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service again have closed several local trails to all users.

“Although we love to play in their backyard, these two months are very important to the elk herds. We need to give them their habitat back,” said Travis Elliott, assistant to the Snowmass town manager, adding that the closures allow the elk to calve “undisturbed, and forage and nurse in peace which means better birth rates, more successful calves and a stronger population.”

According to Elliott, elk show a strong “fidelity” to the Burnt Mountain calving area, which spans from Snowmass Village to Buttermilk. He says the area provides seclusion for calving, water and forage. The area is surrounded by development, however, and human recreational disturbance during calving can result in lower cow-to-calf ratios; biological studies completed in 1994 and 2004 continued to support the trail closures for elk calving.  

Included in the closure Thursday to June 21 are: Tom Blake Trail, Anaerobic Nightmare, Sequel and Government Trail (closing May 15).

Sky Mountain Park and North Rim Trail, on the other hand, reopen May 16.

“Violations have decreased in recent years,” Elliott said, noting nine trespassers were found on wildlife cameras in 2018, while the highest number of violators peaked in 2012 at 29. “We attribute the improvement to education, enforcement and the severity of the penalties.”

Indeed, fines for violating the closures can be steep, ranging from $100 to as much as $5,000. Officials say they have a zero-tolerance policy for violators and use enforcement methods such as onsite rangers and cameras (located in undisclosed locations throughout the closure areas).

“In Snowmass Village, we value the protection of wildlife and educate new residents to co-exist with wildlife,” Elliott said.

The end game is having the elk herd return year after year.

“Everyone knows moving is a hassle — and just like us — when elk find a great place to calve (abundant food, water, and seclusion are all criteria), then tend to stay,” he said. “Each year around this time, elk return to this prime real estate. But stress and disturbance could lead them to abandon this critical habitat. Help us help them stay put.”

Of course there will be times users encounter wildlife on open trails.

“If you see a deer fawn, elk calf or moose calf on open trails, please give plenty of space and do not touch or pick up the neonate. Young are not abandoned. Adult female ungulates may forage away from their young and they will return.”

Also, if moose are seen — as they have been around the village the past few summers and often along the Tom Blake Trail — officials advise giving the large animals a wide berth.

“Moose can become quickly agitated without warning, especially if a dog is in the area,” Elliot said. “Give space and move away from moose, even if your hike will be aborted.”