Wildlife Trail Ambassador program seeking volunteers
Program reminds trail users to respect seasonal wildlife closures
If elk could talk, they’d probably stand at trailheads and ask us humans to turn around when we’re about to violate a seasonal trail closure here in the Vail area.
If you’d like to be the one to do that for the elk, the Vail Valley Mountain Trails Alliance is inviting you to join a Wildlife Trail Ambassador training at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 8.
Elk populations are declining in Eagle County as habitat has become increasingly fragmented in recent decades, particularly in winter habitat zones and calving areas.
One of those winter habitat zones is the upper Meadow Mountain area between Minturn and Beaver Creek. When the nonprofit Vail Valley Mountain Trails Alliance sought to build a new hiking and mountain biking trail in the area, insistence among wildlife advocates regarding winter closures became pointed.
If the proposed EverKrisp trail was to be built, not only would it need to be closed from Nov. 23 to June 20, a program would have to be created to educate trail users about seasonal closures, said Ernest Saeger, the alliance’s executive director. The Wildlife Trail Ambassador program was born.
As part of the program, the Vail Valley Trails Alliance keeps stats from volunteers on how many contacts they made and how many people were turned away when informed of the closure by a trail ambassador. The program also uses existing trail cameras to chart its progress.
In 2017, before the program started, a camera on a closed section of the North Trail in Vail caught more than 200 people violating the trail closure, Saeger said.
“In 2019, I think we had about 90 volunteer shifts that year. That same location with the same camera went from 217 violations down to 148 violations,“ Saeger said. “Not great, but going down.”
In 2021, with the program up to 330 volunteer shifts, the same camera at the same location of the North Trail recorded only 41 violations, Saeger said.
“We want to get to zero, and it’s trending in the right direction,” Saeger said.
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Monday’s training will include experts from the United States Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and more to educate attendees about the science behind seasonal wildlife closures, Saeger said.
“With continual increasing trail use, it is more important than ever to educate trail users on seasonal wildlife closures, trail etiquette and Leave No Trace Principles,” he said.