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Deer could use a better shields from humans

Matt Zalaznick

To keep the migrating herds from changing their minds and chickening out on their way from Vail Mountain to wilderness areas to the north and west, screens have been put up the last couple of springs on a stretch of the West Vail recreation path to block the views of riders and pedestrians that disturb the animals.

The screens are hung along the wooden bridge about halfway between Dowd Junction and Intermountain where a tunnel passes under the bike trail the Interstate 70 on the outskirts of West Vail. Deer and other animals migrate through the tunnel, which is on the animals’ natural migration path.

If sturdier screens aren’t installed, however, there’s a risk the path will have to be be closed during the spring migration season, from May to the first day of summer in June, says Ellie Caryl, trails planner for Eagle County Regional Transit.



That troubles bicyclists who travel the route frequently.

“I certainly think that’s the most important segment of bike path we have in terms of safety,” says Louise Randall, who rides from West Vail to Edwards.



Closing that stretch of path in West Vail would force bicyclists onto I-70 in the spring – an unwelcome prospect considering that season’s volatile and slippery weather, Randall says.

“The combination of changing spring weather, the rocks falling off the walls and the sun coming up and going down, make it a really dangerous time frame for bikers,” she says. “I can’t imagine going back to I-70 again.”

The cost of installing sturdier posts and screens will be split by the Town of Vail and the ECO Trails Department. The ECO Eagle Valley Trails Committee will be contributing as much as $75,000.



“To have that great of an amenity and say we can’t find money to fund this thing would be absolutely atrocious,” says Minturn Town Councilman Fred Haslee, a member of the Trails Committee.

Happier herds will mean happier –and safer –cyclists, too.

“If the screens don’t go up, you kick everyone off the bike path and put them on the interstate and it’s just a matter of time before something catastrophic happens,” Haslee said. “If you’ve ever ridden the bike path, you can hear how many cars cross over the white line on to the shoulders.”

Caryl said that with sturdier screens, the path could open earlier in the year.

“We want to string up a screen on both sides of the path each year that are a lot stronger, more durable and more effective than what you’ve been seeing out there, which has been pretty sketchy,” Caryl said. “It’s been determined through a three-year wildlife study that the path could open sooner in spring if a screen was installed.”

Gregg Barrie, landscape architect for the town of Vail, says the new screening will be able to withstand high winds and “snowblasts.”

Though the bridge is not within the town limits, Vail still maintains that stretch of path. Barrie said the town doesn’t want the path to be closed for most of spring.

“That’s the time of year when people are getting back out on their bikes and getting exciting about springtime,” Barrie said. “It’s important to get that open.”

The new screens will likely be built in September, he said.

Some Trail Committee members were concerned that sharing the cost of the screens would suck money from ECO Trails’ far-more-expensive and ambitious goal of paving a recreation path from Avon through Eagle-Vail to Dowd Junction, Caryl said.

“In the scheme of things, because we are so short of our financial goal to build Avon to Dowd, and there are no other competing projects, $75,000 is not a make or break amount for Dowd Junction,” she said. “Plus, it’s a large public safety issue because it could force people back onto I-70.”

The animals migrate to Vail Mountain, Shrine Pass and Camp Hale in the summer. In the winter, they head to the north and west.

The migration tunnel has been fairly successful, though some animals have still been hit by cars trying to cross the freeway, said Bill Andree, Vail’s district wildlife manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

“The tunnel was put in a normal place where they would cross,” Andree said. “We just put a tunnel in that spot. A large majority use it but we still see plenty of road kills where animals get through the fence.”

But how come there aren’t screens blocking the cars and trucks roaring by on Interstate 70?

“A car doesn’t look anything like a person,” Andree said. “Based on a study, the deer migrated freely when people weren’t there. When they could see the people there was a significant difference in their migration.”

Matt Zalaznick covers public safety, Eagle County Courts and Avon/ Beaver Creek. He can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at mzalaznick@vaildaily.com.


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