Guest Author - Carol Viau
The National Elk Refuge has the largest concentration of wintering elk in the world. It is located in Jackson, Wyoming and is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.
Here is a little bit of history about one of the first big game refuges to be established.
In the early 1900’s Jackson Hole was becoming quite popular with homesteaders. With the increase in people, came increases in cattle, fences and farming. The elk herd that traditionally came to the valley started losing their migration pathways as well as their wintering area, to humans. To add to the problem, the winters were severe during this time, so the elk were finding less food to eat. Thousands of elk starved to death during this time.
The local folks knew that something had to be resolved so that the large elk herd and people could both share the land and survive. They brought up the cause to the state of Wyoming and the U.S. Congress. Thus, the National Elk Refuge began in 1912 to protect the winter migration area of the elk herd. The size of the refuge has grown over time, from 1,760 acres to nearly 25,000.
There are anywhere from 7,500 to 14,000 elk that live on the refuge in winter, in addition to about 800 bison. Other animals found on the refuge include bald eagles, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, grey wolves and peregrine falcons. Waterfowl such as trumpeter swans visit here, as there is about 1600 acres of creeks and open water. There have been 47 different types of mammmals, with 170 bird species sighted on the refuge. One can see how the elk refuge is an important part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
One of the best ways to see the refuge up close, is to take a horse drawn sleigh ride through it! From mid December to late March, sleigh rides are offered from 10am to 4pm. The mountain scenery alone is spectacular, with views of the Tetons, Gros Ventres, and the Sleeping Indian. Getting a close up of view of the majestic elk herd is well worth the price of admission! On cold days, you can see the breath coming out their noses!
There are many reasons to visit Jackson Hole, and the National Elk Refuge is just one of them. Try a sleigh ride on the refuge you won’t be disappointed!
Imperfect Pasture: A Century of Change at the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming