JACKSON (WNE) — The National Elk Refuge pathway is set to open Monday, allowing walkers, bikers and wildlife watchers their first legal access to the pavement since November.
While refuge managers may open the gates Sunday evening to the promenade along the refuge’s western edge, the 6-mile strip of asphalt won’t officially open until after sunrise the next morning. The pathway is never open overnight.
The pathway is closed annually from Nov. 1 to April 30. The closure is intended to protect wildlife that migrate and winter near the refuge.
“That’s really critical foraging habitat for elk,” said Raena Parsons, the refuge’s visitor services manager. “If we get a lot of pedestrians on that pathway, it pushes animals out of that habitat.”
Parsons said people often question that, since there’s a busy highway directly west of the pathway. But, she said, elk and other animals that frequent the area are used to cars.
Because wapiti in the Jackson Elk Herd are hunted, they perceive people on foot or bikes to be predators, Parsons said.
“They don’t have the same response to vehicles,” she said.
Though the closure lifts May 1, as it typically does, Parsons said there are still wild creatures in that corridor. People using the pathway should “keep an eye out for animals,” she said.