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Trail closures offer essential refuge for wildlife

Snowmass Village officials urge humans to follow closures, leave animals undisturbed

Snowmass Village Police Department community resource officers Lauren Martenson, left, and Tina White place a sign on the Seven Star trail to mark its seasonal closure in Snowmass on Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. The two officers fill many roles including animal services and trail rangers.

It might be tempting to bypass the signage and barriers marking seasonal closures on some of Snowmass Village’s popular trails. After all, what harm could a single person do by sneaking in one last hike or bike on a quiet winter day?

A lot, actually.

“They think they’re just the only person and that they wouldn’t disturb anything,” Snowmass Village animal services officer Tina White said. “That’s not true.”



“Everybody impacts it,” she added. “It’s an accumulation.”

According to White and fellow animal services officer Lauren Martenson, the closures are key to protecting local wildlife populations that seek quiet refuge before the calving season in the spring. Sky Mountain Park trails, Seven Star Trail and the northern portion of the Rim Trail (including the Upper North Mesa Equestrian Trail) closed on Dec. 1 and will be open again May 17; additional trails are closed in the spring.



Snowmass Village Winter Trail Closures

Brush Creek Trail: Dec.1 through March 31; closed to dogs Oct. 15 through May 15

Rim Trail North: Dec. 1 through May 16

Seven Star Trail: Dec. 1 through May 16

Upper North Mesa Equestrian Trail: Dec. 1 through May 16

Sky Mountain Park: Dec. 1 through May 16

Additional trail closures occur in the spring. Visit snowmassrecreation.com/201/Seasonal-Trail-Closures and pitkincounty.com/DocumentCenter/View/2281/Trail-Regulations?bidId= for more information.

The town installs wildlife cameras to keep tabs on the elk, deer, moose and other fauna that forage, rest and migrate through the areas that are closed to the public during the winter and spring.

But those cameras have also served a not-so-enriching purpose for law enforcement: catching human trespassers in the act of willful ignorance. An abundance of signage and barriers at some trailheads make it difficult for tail trompers to claim plausible deniability.

“There’s just no excuse,” White said. “We were disappointed to see people blatantly disregarding (the closures).”

For humans, the consequences include a $100 fine on the first violation and a summons to court for all subsequent violations — no warnings, White said.

But for the wildlife that seek refuge from human interaction in the open spaces, the consequences could be dire.

According to White, the regions impacted by closures have historically been part of a “really critical migratory area” for elk — a place to seek food before calving (giving birth) in the spring.

“It’s where the elk can get the most food for the least amount of energy,” White said.

Disturbance from human activity makes it difficult for the elk to get enough fuel to sustain their pregnancies; some elk cows may self-abort their calves if they lack sufficient caloric intake during the gestation period.

“It’s hard enough for them to find caloric sources,” Martenson said. “The whole idea is to minimize their caloric expenditure.”

Loud noises from hikers even on open trails can startle wildlife and disrupt the natural habits of elk and other wildlife; if people encounter elk, deer and similar wildlife when out recreating, it’s best to stay “extremely quiet,” Martenson said.

An increase in outdoor recreation in recent years has raised concerns about the impacts on local wildlife, White noted. Abiding by the closures is more important than ever as local elk populations are put at risk by the disturbances.

“The recreational pressures have gotten so significant,” White said, that some officials are “seeing a depletion in the elk herds.”

White and Martenson urge outdoor recreationalists to observe the closures in place for the sake of the wildlife.

“We have a lot more recreational pressure than we used to … and everyone wants a piece of the pie,” White said. “It’s a bigger picture.”

For a full list of seasonal trail closures throughout Snowmass Village, visit http://www.snowmassrecreation.com/201/Seasonal-Trail-Closures.

Kaya Williams can be reached at kwilliams@aspentimes.com.


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