Sign-poster angered by elk calving closure
Two popular hiking and biking trails south of Eagle-Vail -Stone and Whiskey creeks – have been closed for the next six weeks by the U.S. Forest Service because elk are calving in the area.
But that’s not sitting well with some users of the trails. They anonymously covered the Stone Creek trail closure posted by the Forest Service with a sign telling users to call or petition to have the trails open. So far the Forest Service switchboard in Minturn has received 20 calls.
Problem is, regardless of the number of calls, the trails aren’t going to be opened until June 30, when the elk are done calving and leave the area, Forest Service officials said.
Elk needs aside, the trails closure – and others across the forest – are part of an old agreement struck between the Forest Service, then-Vail Associates and the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
The trails closures in the various drainages are part of an 2,000-acre area used as habitat for lands the elk can no longer use in traditional habitat that is now Beaver Creek resort. Nearly 400 elk are believed to use the area for calving.
“Elk are visual animals,” said Forest Service Biologist Vern Phinney. “They respond to movement. People hiking and biking is a disturbance. Too many people running around when elk are calving could cause the animals to become spooked and leave their calves.”
The heavily-used trails were only recently added the Forest Service’s local network, said Don Dressler, Forest Service trails supervisor.
“They were either irrigation ditches or ‘social” trails,'” he said. “In 1999, the Forest Service made them part of the trails system and was required to manage them.”
One of the reasons the trails are so popular with hikers is they are snow-free early in the season. That’s also the reason elk like the area, Dressler said.
Once elk calving is completed, the animals migrate to higher elevations where there is better forage, Phinney said.
The closures south of Eagle-Vail are two of eight trails closed to protect wildlife habitat on the Holy Cross District of the White River National Forest surrounding the Vail Valley.
Changing the closure would require amending the recently-adopted White River Forest plan, a document that outlines how the area will be managed, Phinney said.
Cliff Thompson can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 949-0555 ext. 450.