JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Officials for National Elk Refuge have decided to sign off on opening the North Pathway along Highway 89 and the refuge. The pathway will be available to bicyclists, walkers, runners and other non-motorized users effective April 20.
After observing a sufficient number of elk already migrated from the refuge, officials believe activity on the pathway will no longer cause stress to the animals US Fish & Wildlife is mandated to provide for.
The 5-mile segment of pathway along Highway 89 between the Town of Jackson and Gros Ventre Junction is subject to an annual closure as part of a condition of the agreement between Teton County, Wyo., and the National Elk Refuge, due to the pathway’s location on U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service property.
The opening is 10 days ahead of the target date of May 1. Beginning a few years ago, refuge officials established a set of criteria to determine when the pathway may open earlier than May 1, using the number of animals remaining on the Refuge and the potential for conflicts with migration as the basis for an annual decision to open the pathway early. National Elk Refuge spokeswoman Lori Iverson explained if large numbers of elk have migrated off the Refuge early, dropping the number of remaining animals to the May 1 long–term average of approximately 2,500 elk, the pathway can potentially open as early as April 15.
GPS collar data shows that peak spring elk movements often occur during the second and third weeks of April.
Counts taken on April 19 showed that the number of elk remaining on the refuge had dropped from approximately 3,200 animals on April 17 to less than 2,000 on April 19.
The fall closure date has also been adjusted since the pathway opened in 2011, moving the seasonal closure from October 1 to November 1. The date change reflected the most current data available regarding elk migration patterns near the pathway.
Pathway barriers were removed today and sweeping will begin Thursday morning.