JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Spring is bringing changes to the National Elk Refuge. Horse-drawn sleigh rides are continuing with the aid of wheels now and not snow runners. The pathway adjacent to the Refuge remains closed but officials are monitoring elk dispersal to decide if the pathway should open earlier than the traditional May 1 date. The entire refuge will open May 1.
Refuge manager Brian Glaspell announced today that this year’s wintering wildlife closure on the National Elk Refuge will be lifted at 12:00 am on May 1, 2017 to coincide with the Bridger-Teton National Forest’s scheduled annual opening.
From December 1 through April 30 each year, a seasonal closure limits public travel on the Refuge Road. During that period, traffic and pedestrian use are only allowed from the Refuge entrance off East Broadway Avenue to the Twin Creek subdivision. The closure provides animals protection at a time when their energy reserves are low and abundant new vegetation growth, or green-up, is not yet widely available for foraging.
For many years now interest in accessing the Bridger-Teton via the Refuge Road has resulted in long lines of vehicles and horse trailers beginning to jockey for position by April 30. The interest, of course, is shed hunting—the removal of elk antlers from public land.
The practice of lining up was discontinued last year when Refuge authorities decided to coincide their opening date with the USFS, which lifts winter closure at midnight on May 1. The public is reminded that it is illegal to take, collect, retrieve, possess, or transport any natural product, including shed antlers, from the Refuge.
The Refuge’s most popular wildlife viewing program is a horse-drawn ride among the elk herd. The experience is offered to visitors from mid-December through early April via a private contractor, Double H Bar, Inc. This year, rides are scheduled through Saturday, April 8, though recently those rides have been utilizing wagons with wheels rather than sleighs.
Regardless of the means of transport, passengers are able to get close to the elk herd for premier wildlife viewing and photography opportunities. Several hundred elk still remain in the area where the rides take passengers. The location of the herd can change throughout the day, oftentimes moving further west and closer to the sleigh-boarding area in the afternoon.
More than 32,000 people have participated in a ride so far this year.
If a large migration occurs, the rides may terminate earlier than the scheduled date of April 8. Updates will be shared on the Refuge’s website, or by calling (307) 733-0277.
North Highway 89 Pathway
The North Highway 89 multi-use pathway along the Refuge’s west boundary is open for non-motorized use from May 1 through October 31. However, the Refuge has opened the pathway earlier in the season if the number of remaining animals falls below the long-term May 1 average of 2,500 elk. Currently, approximately 5,200 elk are still on the Refuge. The decision whether or not to open the pathway early is closely coordinated with Jackson Hole Community Pathways.