Artsy fence a boon for all |

Artsy fence a boon for all

Matt Zalaznick

The inspiration of French post-impressionist painter Henri Matisse is helping local bicyclists co-exist with the deer and elk herds that migrate every spring to Vail Mountain.

Indeed, Matisse was the inspiration for the bright green and blue tarp hung on the sides of a bridge on the bike path leading from West Vail to Dowd Junction. In the spring, deer and elk migrate under the bridge to their summer ranges on Vail Mountain, Vail Pass and Shrine Pass.

Without the tarp, local wildlife officials say, the sight of bikers and pedestrians frightens the animals from migrating.

No sight of humans

They actually are bothered by the sight of humans but not the roar of cars and trucks speeding above on Interstate 70.

Without the tarp, wildlife officials also might have to close the popular path during the spring, just when many locals are taking their first post-ski-season bike rides, says Ellie Caryl, trails planner for Eagle County Regional Transit, which manages that stretch of path with the town of Vail.

“Because the tarp allows the deer to do their thing, it also allows the path to be open sooner for humans to use it,” Caryl says.

The path used to open in the early spring but then had to be closed again until mid-June while the animals passed under the bridge. Studies done by wildlife officials have shown the deer migrate freely when people are not on or around the bike path. The animals’ journeys were interrupted, however, when they saw humans.

“The experiments showed when they see humans they back off and don’t go through the tunnel at all or they get scared,” Caryl says. “The tarp should keep them on their migration path without any stress.”

With the tarp, the path can be open as soon as the snow melts and the pavement is cleared. Because the tarp can be taken down after the migration, it should last many years, Caryl says.

“It’s a good solution, short of having an expensive covered bridge,” Caryl says.

Bikes off the freeway

Closing that stretch of bike path would force bicyclists onto the freeway, which is an unwelcome prospect considering that season’s volatile and slippery weather, local riders says.

The tarp was designed by Denver artist Barbara Baer, says Leslie Fickling, Vail’s public art coordinator.

“There was a feeling it shouldn’t stick out,” Fickling says. “We didn’t want purple or magenta, we didn’t want to stop traffic, but we still wanted to attract some attention.”

That’s where Matisse comes in –especially his large, colorful cut-outs.

“We didn’t want to do anything too controversial,” Fickling says. “We thought big, bold splotches of color wouldn’t offend anyone.”

To blend with the surrounding canyon, the side of the fencing facing Gore Creek is blue and the side facing the highway is green, to match the mountainside, Fickling says.

The path starts in the Intermountain neighborhood of West Vail and then winds along Gore Creek and over the Eagle River, where it ends alongside U.S. Highway 6 in Dowd Junction.

This summer, construction should begin on the first phase of a recreation path that will run all the way from Dowd Junction to Avon.

Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at

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