Colorado Parks and Wildlife pushes for full winter closure on Haymaker Trail

Dusk-to-dawn closure would be a step in the right direction, district manager says, but not enough

Ash Lohmann
Vail Daily
Elk and deer herds move through Eagle during the winter. A district manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife recommends that Haymaker takes its potential dusk-to-dawn closure one step further with a seasonal closure.
Vail Daily archive

Brian Woodrich, a Colorado Parks and Wildlife district wildlife manager, recommended a full seasonal winter closure of Eagle’s popular Haymaker Trail, but said a dawn-to-dusk closure would be a step in the right direction during a Jan. 10 meeting with the Eagle Open Space and Recreation Committee.

The committee is researching the potential impact of a dusk-to-dawn closure on the trail during the winter months, which led to the sit-down with Woodrich.

To limit winter wildlife interactions in the area, Woodrich said he recommends the town opt for a full seasonal closure despite the popularity of the trail with users year-round. He said that Haymaker goes through severe winter range for local elk and deer populations and limiting human and wildlife interactions is a priority for CPW.

“That’s what I’m hanging my hat on at this one, is that when we have disturbances, whether it’s minor or major, it’s still a disturbance and it’s — in my opinion, it’s preventable,” Woodrich said. 

With the dusk-to-dawn voluntary closure that the Eagle Open Space and Recreation Committee is considering, ideally, people would only recreate at Haymaker during daylight hours. Nighttime wildlife interactions would be expected to drop. 

Without the limitation of human-wildlife interactions throughout the day at Haymaker, populations may still see adverse effects of recreators continuing to take to the trail in winter, Woodrich said.

Woodrich said that CPW has been noticing a high level of winter mortality among wildlife in the area. 

“Winter stresses, spring kills,” Woodrich said. “Calls start piling up over in the Terrace, over in the Orchard, over in the whole area through there of deer that have been stressed throughout the winter and have basically been run to death.”

Elk and deer populations have seen significant declines in recent years. 

CPW’s aim is to help increase the wildlife population, but its population objectives have been reduced due to rapid habitat loss. Woodrich reported that since 2008, deer populations have averaged about 68% of CPW’s objective number. 

With populations falling so quickly, Woodrich said interactions like the ones at Haymaker may not only build stress throughout the winter but also threaten the well-being of the entire population.

“That’s our concern,” Woodrich said of elk and deer winter mortality rates. “A lot of them are females, a lot of them are carrying young.”

He added: “The known fix for a lot of these problems is to remove the human element from the situation, if possible. And again, four months, we’re not saying full-time closure, we’re just saying let’s put it in because it’s a migration corridor. It’s winter range.”

Overall, Woodrich said a dusk-to-dawn closure at Haymaker would be beneficial, as he regularly sees people with headlamps or flashlights up on the trail at night.

“I commend (Eagle Open Space and Recreation Committee) for thinking outside the box,” he said. “What can we do? Where can we go to maybe start that discussion?”

A seasonal closure would not be the “silver bullet” that would reverse population declines, Woodrich said, but it is a simple solution that has the potential to have a major impact on wildlife moving through the area. 

“In respect to Haymaker, this trail should have been, in my opinion, closed from the very beginning with a winter closure,” Woodrich said. 

To make his point, Woodrich referenced the town’s Open Space Master Plan and its position on seasonal wildlife closures. 

 “With seasonal wildlife closures, work to balance consistency, changing habitat needs of wildlife and winter recreation opportunities,” the Open Space Master Plan reads. “All recreational opportunities in mapped wintering range and/or other environmentally vulnerable areas will be considered for seasonal wildlife closures. Dates will be determined in partnership with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Bureau of Land Management and any other applicable land managers.”

Additionally, Woodrich illustrated the town’s responsibility in protecting wildlife with an executive order from Gov. Jared Polis’ office. The order outlined land-use planning objectives as well as goals for conserving Colorado’s big game winter range in migration corridors.

“This is statewide,” Woodrich said. “Every small municipality contributes to the overall success of migration corridors and that’s going to be the success for our population.”

The Open Space and Recreation Committee will continue to collect data to inform a decision on Haymaker trail closures, whether seasonal or dusk-to-dawn throughout winter.

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