Seeing elk on the Telluride Valley floor is becoming increasingly common. The herd that has adopted the Valley Floor this summer is nothing short of astonishing to us Telluride old-timers. We remember when elk were pretty darn scarce in the Telluride region. There must be something like 20 times the number of elk here now than there were in the 1940s.
It wasn't all that long ago that seeing elk out in the middle of the day at West Meadows opposite the Mountain Village entrance didn't happen. It's regular now. In the early evening of July 15 there were about 50 elk spread out in the large meadow across the highway just east of the Eider Creek (formerly called Gold King) condos. Some were pretty close to the bike path that runs adjacent to the Telluride Spur boondoggle. There were bulls, cows and calves grazing, for all intents and purposes, not unlike the valley cows. Considering that in my earlier lifetime here, until only a few years back, elk were never seen in the Telluride Valley. It continues to boggle my mind.
In an article a short time ago, Susan Kees encouraged people to use the biking and hiking trail on the south side of the Telluride Valley out as far as public access reaches. One cannot legally use the trail all the way to Lawson Hill because, thankfully, the San Miguel Valley Corp. has their Valley Floor holdings posted off-limits to the public.
Because elk are still elk and not cows, I would encourage, and even beg people not to use the River Trail westward beyond Boomerang Road, the road/trail that goes from the San Miguel Country store across the valley to the opposite side and up the mountain to Mountain Village.
Because there are so few Valley Floor cows (beef cows) using the SMVC property this year, apparently due to the drought conditions, the elk herd hasn't been run off as usual after the beef cows arrive. Elk like to hang out in a place where they aren't being harassed, and they'll stay in the valley until the harassment by people reaches a saturation point or a single incident runs them off. All it will take to chase them out of the valley is one hiker or bicyclist with a wildlife chasing dog or two. Come on, people, leave the west half of the valley and the elk alone. There are plenty of other places to hike and bike around here without using the Valley Floor trail west of Boomerang Road.
Dogs and elk are incompatible. I'll bet it would surprise you to know the number of elk calves and deer fawns that have been killed by dogs in the Telluride region since Telluride's recreation boom.
How about it, councilpersons of the Town of Telluride? How about closing the portion of the trail I describe with a large sign saying: "Trail permanently closed beyond this point in order to avoid disturbing the Valley Floor elk herd." I realize in a resort region that stepping on any recreationist's toes is tantamount to tearing down the ski lifts or incinerating the Holy Grail, but how about doing something really anti-recreation green for a change and close that short section of unimportant trail? If (really big if here) the Town of Telluride somehow raises enough money and is successful in wrestling the SMVC property away from Neal Blue, discussion will then become imperative over whether recreation or nature gets the highest use priority in the Telluride Valley. Nothing against recreation that I wouldn't also hold against logging, grazing and mining, but I vote right now for nature … and the amazing Valley Floor elk herd.
Funny thing, there's a bike path on the opposite side of the Valley Floor that the Town of Telluride got for free. All it had to do was take possession of four and one-half miles of highway in the valley to plow, pave and police forever. That was such a great deal every bicyclist who heads in or out of the Telluride Valley ought to be taking advantage of it and giving the Town of Telluride a return on its boondoggle.
It took forever to acquire resident elk in the valley, let's try to keep 'em there by permanently closing the south-side hiking/biking trail in the west half of the valley.