Although some of theupper trails at Twin Buttes are closed in an effort to protect wildlife during the winter months, others on the lower part will be closed because of construction. As soon as development is complete, Twin Buttes will reopen the lower trail offerings year round./Photo by Jennaye Derge

Trailing off

Wildlife concerns cited in new approach to seasonal closures

by Tracy Chamberlin

It’s time to flip the sign on many local trails. Starting Tues., Dec. 1, hikers, bikers and other trail users are going to find some of their favorite treks closed for the season.

Deer, elk and other animals head for the lower elevations as the temperature drops and the snow piles up, increasing the possibility of human and wildlife interaction. These unexpected encounters can actually be harmful to wildlife. Trail closures are meant to keep the public safe, and the flora and fauna protected.

The winter is typically the most difficult time for wildlife, with travel difficult and food sources scarce.

Opened and closed

For wildlife and environmental reasons, local officials are closing certain oublic trails. Violation of the closures could result in a citation and fine.

Trail closure dates: Dec. 1-April 15

Closed trails located in: Bodo State Wildlife Area, Perins Peak State Wildlife Area (a portion of Perins Peak on the east side of Dry Fork Road is closed Dec. 1-July 31), Animas City Mountain, Twin Buttes and Grandview.

Open trails located in: Dalla Mountain Park, Overend Mountain Park, Horse Gulch/Raider Ridge, Fort Lewis College Rim, Colorado Trail, the lower portion of Animas City Mountain and a portion of
Carbon Junction Trail.

The Smelter Mountain Trail is also open, but only from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Dec. 1 – April 15, and dogs are prohibited.

Signs are posted and the public is urged to be diligent.

To a map of the closures, visit or sjplc.html.

“They are just trying to survive the winter,” said Matt Thorpe, area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Trail closure throughout the area is nothing new; many have been subject to closures for years. What’s new this year is the duration of the closures.

In the past, local agencies and municipalities used what’s called a conditions-based approach. When conditions warranted, like a herd of elk coming down the mountain or a strong storm on the way, trails were temporarily closed. This year, the trails will stay closed for the entire season.

When asked why the Bureau of Land Management decided not to support conditions-based closures this year, BLM spokesperson Shannon Borders cited the newly signed Resource Management Plan, which provides guidance for the agency’s land managers.

“(The Plan) determined specified dates for closures in order to provide the best protection for big game in the area,” she said in an email.

Thorpe called it a collaborative effort between Parks and Wildlife, the BLM and City of Durango.

“Hopefully it makes it a little more certain for the public, makes compliance easier for trail users,” he said.

Mary Monroe, executive director of Trails 2000, said she personally likes the conditions-based closures. She thinks it’s easier for people to understand. When the snow covers the ground, they can see why the trail is closed.

With this new system, however, the trail could look accessible but be off limits.

“We’re not trying to stop people from recreating, but it’s important people realize wildlife is important, too,” said Joe Lewandowski, spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, one of three entities coordinating on the trail closures.

Thorpe explained with limited food, during the winter, deer and elk live off stored fat with lower energy levels. “It’s a slow starvation in the winter time,” he added.

When deer or elk unexpectedly come across someone walking on a trail, they have an instinctive flight response. Thorpe said it’s going to force them to use up those spare calories faster. 

“The closures ensure wildlife are not affected by frequent human disturbance …,” the BLM said in a statement. “These disturbances can lead to decreased deer and elk health conditions, calves with lower survival rates and failed reproduction.”

With a decrease in mule deer populations over the past couple decades, BLM and Parks and Wildlife officials agree having winter refuges on Colorado’s public lands is more important than ever.

Thorpe said the take-home message is that wildlife are a valuable resource, and there’s still plenty of places where people can enjoy the outdoors.

“Let’s give these critters a little bit of space, so they can get through the winter,” he added. 

The closed trails include Perins Peak State Wildlife Area, Bodo State Wildlife Area, Animas City Mountain, Grandview and Twin Buttes. Some trails in those areas will remain open, along with many close to Durango.

Monroe said it’s been a mixed bag when it comes to public reactions. It’s a balance between recreation and wildlife protection, and people tend to respect the

One area where the trail closures was unexpected was in Twin Buttes.

When the Twin Buttes community first broke ground, two distinct trail systems were created: an upper and lower section. The upper section was expected to be closed during the winter months because of wildlife. The lower section, however, was constructed as an alternative and expected to remain open year round.

Durango’s Parks and Recreation director Cathy Metz said during the collaborative process for trail closures in the area, the city consulted with the owners of Twin Buttes, which is private land and cannot be closed by
Durango officials.

“We just asked what they would like to do,” she said. “That’s their call.”

They decided to close both sections this year. Something they also did last year, according to Paula Schler, Twin Buttes executive administrator.

“We are still a development that is slowly moving forward,” Schler said.

Schler said they don’t want to close all the trails, but with muddy roads and construction ongoing, it’s important to keep that area undisturbed. It’s also a safety issue. 

“Eventually, we anticipate keeping those open year round,” she added. n\\