Eagle River Preserve winter closures will return, expanding to include new trail area | VailDaily.com

Eagle River Preserve winter closures will return, expanding to include new trail area

EAGLE COUNTY — The coming winter season means locals will venture out to enjoy large swaths of the great outdoors. It also means they will be restricted from using some others.

One example is the seasonal wildlife closure at the Eagle River Preserve.

At the Edwards area open space property, officials from Colorado Parks and Wildlife have worked with Eagle County representatives to implement a seasonal closure to protect a herd of approximately 30 wintering elk. In the past, that closure has extended from Dec. 1 through April 1 and included two social trails near the property perimeter.

As county officials contemplate the 2017 closure rules, they are looking at extending the area to include a gravel path that runs along the northeast corner of the Eagle River Preserve property.

"We really have to look at the issue of people and dogs and elk," said Phil Kirkman, Eagle County Open Space ranger, during a Monday, Nov. 6, work session with the county commissioners.

"Taking care of that herd is a big responsibility for us," Kirkman said. "This is really just giving elk a bigger buffer where people travel."

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Eagle County Open Space Manager Diane Mauriello noted that the goal behind the seasonal closure is to protect both people and wildlife.

Prior to the closures, Colorado Parks and Wildlife reported multiple close calls between humans and elk and higher wildlife stress and mortality. In 2009, for example, there were five elk killed in the Miller Ranch area. In 2015, only one elk was euthanized.

Mauriello noted that the first wave of closure efforts center on education — posting signs at the property and issuing community announcements. She noted that the outreach effort will include website and social media postings along with press releases and notification to nearby homeowners associations. But if people still venture out into the closed areas, Mauriello noted that the ability to issue citations is a powerful deterrent.

The exact dates of the 2017-18 wildlife closures have not yet been determined.

"It depends on the elk and the recommendations from Colorado Parks and Wildlife," Mauriello said.

However, the dates will likely be similar to the Dec. 1 through April 1 closures during past years.

As for the future, Kirkman said the county hopes to continue the closures.

"Hopefully the elk won't leave and we will have to do this every year," Kirkman said.

Hardscrabble Ranch

During this week's work session, Mauriello also spoke with the commissioners about an on-going management concern at the Hardscabble Ranch property, located southeast of Eagle. The county will take over ownership of the property in early December and has concerns about motorized use of a pair of roads along Old Salt Creek Road.

"Actually, to call them roads may be a bit of an overstatement," Mauriello said.

She suggested the placement of boulders or gates to eliminate the vehicle use issue.

"We aren't really taking any access away because you aren't supposed to be accessing the area on a motorized vehicle," she said.

According to Kirkman, the area has become something of a party spot, which means rubbish is left in the area. He also voiced concerns about degradation of the hillside area, caused by motorized use.

Commissioner Jeannie McQueeney offered support for the boulder option because it would dissuade vehicles, but not pedestrians or cyclists, from accessing the trail.

"That way we are clarifying the uses and trying to protect the nature habitat," McQueeney said.