Thousands of elk migrated from the National Elk Refuge in Teton County in recent weeks, reducing the population on the reserve to fewer than 2,500 animals. That metric allowed Elk Refuge officials to open a paved pathway along Highway 89/191 — just outside the refuge fence — to cyclists and hikers.
Pedalers and plodders flocked to the byway on sunny days this week.
Because the path crosses refuge land, biologists and administrators curtail its use to times — late spring, summer and early fall — when people have minimal effect on nearby wildlife. “Wildlife first” is a refuge catchphrase.
State and federal workers counted 8,095 elk on refuge feed lines this winter. Hundreds and hundreds of elk left muddy hoofprints on pathways around the refuge this week as they moved northwest to summer pastures and woods.
The opening of the north Jackson pathway completed a bicycle loop around East Gros Ventre Butte that drew dozens of riders. Many of the 68.5 miles of paved non-motorized pathways (low-powered electric-motor bicycles are permitted on some sections) across Jackson Hole have remained open during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Health officials and path advocates encourage proper etiquette. “Do not spit or snot-rocket on rides or around other people walking or biking,” Friends of Pathways advises. “Carrying a kerchief or bandana in your pocket is a good alternative that will mitigate the risk of any spread.”