JACKSON, Wyo. — Seasonal closure of the N. Highway 89 Pathway between Jackson and the Grand Teton NP will go into effect on Sunday, November 1.
The five-mile segment of the pathway stretching between Flat Creek and the Gros Ventre River is subject to an annual closure from November 1 to April 30 in order to reduce impacts to migrating elk and other wildlife that winter on the National Elk Refuge.
The seasonal closure is a condition of the agreement between Teton County, Wyoming and the National Elk Refuge to maintain the pathway and offer recreational activities on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service property. The seasonal closure reduces the likelihood of conflicts between elk and pathway users and ensures the pathway is compatible with the agency’s ‘wildlife first’ mission.
“The North Pathway lies within a key migration route,” explained Brian Schilling, Pathways coordinator for Teton County. “Pathway users may spook elk trying to find their way to the Refuge during the active fall migration period. This increases the risk that they’ll respond by running back onto the highway and into harm’s way, creating a hazard to both wildlife and motorists.”
In years’ past, flexible real-time decisions have been made as far as tweaking these fixed dates according to weather conditions, but those mostly pertained to reopening the pathway in the spring when it was clear elk had left the refuge and pathway use could safely resume. In the fall, it is less obvious when elk will choose to return to the refuge and whether pathway traffic interferes with that migration.
County maintenance crews will close the gates installed along the length of the pathway to notify cyclists and pedestrians that the pathway is closed during the elk migration and winter seasons. Violators of the closure are subject to citation for trespassing, fines, and possible federal prosecution.
Refuge officials remind the public that crossing over the pathway to approach the Refuge fence for photographs or wildlife viewing is still a breach of the pathway closure. The presence of humans at or near the fence often causes nearby elk to bolt and leave the area. The constant disturbance throughout the winter has a cumulative effect, adding to an animal’s weakened condition brought about by the rigors of the harsh season.
National Elk Refuge manager Frank Durbian stated, “The County’s pathway provides an exciting opportunity for the public to enjoy the beauty of the National Elk Refuge and observe wildlife. The reason for the seasonal closure is to ensure that wildlife, especially migrating elk, are not disturbed during a very sensitive time of the year.”