Please Heed Warning Signs On Lake Estes Trail
By: Kris Hazelton
You know its springtime in the Rockies when the new elk calves begin to show up in the Estes Valley. The bird sanctuary on the Lake Estes Trail is a popular birthing area for the elk and new signs have just been posted alerting users of the lake trail that there could potentially be protective mother elk in the area.
With the new baby elk calves and the proximity of the elk population to the Estes Park residents and visitors, especially on the lake trail, the Estes Valley Rec and Park District has gathered a group of volunteers to help in the area to prevent potential human elk encounters.
Volunteers have received special training and will be on duty advising trail users if there are elk cows and calves present which might pose a conflict as you walk or run through.
The mothers are not being aggressive when defending their young, just protective. It’s our responsibility to not get too close to the baby or the mother and these new volunteers will be helping out this spring, mainly along the Lake Estes Trail.
In the event that you encounter a protective mother elk anywhere in the Estes Valley, here are some helpful tips.
The best thing to do at this time of year is to be very aware of your surroundings. The cows have calves all over town and you just never know when you’re going to happen to walk by a mother and calf.
If you encounter a protective mother, the best thing to do, is to back away quickly. Don’t turn your back on her, as you won’t know if she is charging you. Make yourself look large. If you have a jacket, raise it above your head, and swing it around, make yourself look formidable. Chances are the mother will be glad you’re leaving their space. However, if she continues to pursue you, check around for a stick and if one is available, pick it up and throw the stick at her or if she approaches, give her a whack on her nose to drive her away.
If she is an especially protective mother and charges you to the point of knocking you down, curl up in the fetal position and protect your head and neck with your arms and hands. She’ll most likely give you a couple of thumps with her legs and then leave you alone, not seeing you as a potential threat anymore.
Also, if you happen to be walking or jogging with a dog, the elk will be even more on alert and aggressive towards your dog. She will see your pet as a real threat, a predator, to her baby. The best thing to do in this case is to let your dog go for the time, and save yourself. The elk will most likely chase off your dog and you can retrieve the dog a bit further down the trail. The new signs on the lake trail warn that no dogs should go through the bird sanctuary area at this time. There are miles of other trails, less used by the elk and it is suggested you alter your route for a few weeks to avoid potential problems.
Although the elk are used to seeing people, the elk are very much still wild animals. Adult elk, both male and female, are very large and can be dangerous, particularly if they think a person is threatening their territory or offspring.
Another important note, if you find a baby elk or mule deer, please never go near or touch it. Even though it could appear that its mother is absent, elk calves are seldom orphaned, and its mother is probably feeding only a short distance away. She’ll make herself known very quickly when you get too close!
If you come across a protective female elk, and she is endangering people in a public area, the best thing to do is move away and call the Estes Park Police Department Dispatch Center at 586-4000. They will notify the proper authorities and the volunteers who will temporarily close off the area until the mother moves on with her calf.
Educating ourselves and our visitors about wildlife issues is the right thing to do, especially around calving time and during the fall rut. Remember, there’s a reason it’s called wildlife.