JACKSON HOLE, WYO – National Elk Refuge Manager Brian Glaspell announced today the North Highway 89 Pathway will open for non-motorized public use this week, several days ahead of the scheduled opening on May 1. The public is asked to respect the closure until Teton County Parks and Recreation can schedule a pathway sweep and open the gates. The pathway is expected to be open by the weekend.
The agreement between the National Elk Refuge and Jackson Hole Community Pathways states if large numbers of elk migrate off the Refuge early, dropping the number of remaining animals to the May 1 long-term average of approximately 2,500 elk, the pathway may potentially open prior to the established date.
GPS collar data and staff surveys indicated an average of 4,800 elk were still using the Refuge’s winter habitat during the first two weeks of April. Elk numbers dropped significantly late last week and on through the weekend as large numbers of animals migrated off the Refuge, with many elk moving to the sagebrush flats north of the Gros Ventre River near Kelly as well as the Snake River corridor in the vicinity of the Jackson Hole Airport. By April 22, the number of elk remaining on the Refuge had dropped to 1,450 animals.
The 5-mile segment of the pathway is subject to an annual closure as part of a condition of the agreement between Teton County and the National Elk Refuge for pathway use on U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service property. Unlike neighboring federal lands with a wide range of recreational opportunities, the National Elk Refuge is mandated to prioritize habitat conservation and wildlife management, adhering to a “wildlife first” mission when considering or allowing public uses. The seasonal closure of the pathway maximizes benefits to important wildlife habitat and migration corridors and allows the Refuge to be in compliance with its mission and purpose.
Pathway users should note they will be diverted to the roadway for approximately ¼ mile as they enter Grand Teton National Park south of Gros Ventre Junction on U.S. Highway 26/89/191 and approach a road construction project. Pathway traffic may travel on the roadway shoulder through the Gros Ventre Junction area during temporary construction-related park pathway closures but should use caution due to vehicles and construction activities. Detailed information about the Gros Ventre Roundabout improvement project, including a project timeline, construction impacts, and maps, can be found on Grand Teton National Park’s website.
Meanwhile, the Refuge Road will remain closed to public travel beyond the Twin Creek subdivision until midnight on May 1, giving public access to the Curtis Canyon and Flat Creek Roads and adjoining the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Access regulations are available for individuals traveling through the Refuge to the National Forest on or near May 1 on the Refuge’s website.