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Lake Estes Trail Elk Management Volunteers Needed

By: Stan Gengler, Executive Director

Elk are present in the community year-round. Most of the time, they are very passive and casually walk throughout the community. During elk calving season their attitude can change greatly. Cow elk are very protective of the calves and potential conflicts with humans are possible. The Lake Estes trail is a popular location to walk dogs and during calving season, cow elk consider dogs to be predators. The Matthews-Reeser Bird Sanctuary, located along the trail behind the Power Plant, is an elk calving area.

Aggressive elk will charge people and bodily harm could result from such conflicts. People have been chased and we’ve had a few injuries. Some have even chosen to jump into the lake to get away from aggressive elk! The highest concentration of conflicts between elk and trail users take place between May 15 and June 15, when most of the calves are born. Approximately 8 to 12 calves are born in the Bird Sanctuary each spring.

Our previous elk management policy hasn’t worked very well. We posted small signs that warned trail users of aggressive elk during calving season. In the past, after a reported conflict, we’ve closed off the trail by installing barricades with “Trail Closed” signs. We have found that many people ignore the barricades or go around the Bird Sanctuary via the Lake Estes Golf Course. People who venture onto the golf course further place themselves in danger of being hit by golf balls.

After the warning barricades are set up, the issue then becomes how long they should remain in place. On some occasions, after a protective mother has been reported and checked out, it can be a matter of minutes before the calf has moved or the cow becomes more passive.

Our current program of barricading after an aggressive cow elk has been reported does not seem to work: the barricades are ignored by many; trail users seek alternate routes via the golf course; and/or the cow elk becomes more passive. In short, barricading has been ineffective and hard to manage. As a result, we sought and discussed alternatives for a new elk management approach with the Division of Wildlife and the Estes Park Police Department.

Our new approach to handling elk conflict consists of increased signage, public education, and the creation of a volunteer wildlife safety corp. Large signs will be placed on both sides of the Lake Estes Trail and at both the east and west ends of the Bird Sanctuary. The larger signs will read: “Caution” – Elk Calving Area – Aggressive Elk May be Present – Proceed at Your Own Risk”. I would certainly recommend that you take an alternate route during elk calving season.

Jayne Zmijewski, a volunteer with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, has agreed to help us with public education — particularly with protective mothers. We are seeking additional volunteers to help us educate trail users and help us during problematic times with elk. A mandatory training session will be required for all volunteers that will cover elk behavior and safety. Volunteers are needed from May 15 through July 1. If you are interested in volunteering or need more information, please feel free to call Jayne by April 30th at 586-9427.

Management of the Matthews-Reeser Bird Sanctuary area to promote trail use during the elk calving season, while at the same time minimizing potential conflicts, is a local issue. There is no simple answer to the problem due to the intermittent and unpredictable timetable of elk being born near the trail. We cannot tell you how many, where, or when elk will be born in the Bird Sanctuary.

We live in a community that has unique challenges related to wildlife that habitat the area. We are issuing a warning that the Matthews-Reeser Bird Sanctuary is an elk calving area and that potential conflicts with elk may occur. The Lake Estes Trail goes for 3.75 miles around Lake Estes and features spectacular views and an opportunity to promote your health on a great walking trail. Enjoy your spring and always be mindful of the wildlife that you see in the area. Remember, these are wild animals and keeping a safe distance is good for you — and for the animal too! During elk calving season, I recommend that you avoid the Bird Sanctuary altogether, as there are many other walking alternatives on the Lake Estes Trail. If you have any questions about the Lake Estes Trail or other District facilities, visit our website at


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