Closing the Sage Hills trail system for four months each winter is timed right to protect mule deer and other wildlife according to counts done by Chelan PUD wildlife staff over a dozen years.
Von Pope, senior wildlife biologist, said November-to-April counts since 2007 show the number of deer in the area rises sharply in December and peaks in March.
“Even during mild winters, we see mule deer using the Sage Hills in late winter and early spring,” Pope said. “It’s good confirmation that the trail closure is timed right to protect deer moving into the area seeking food and cover.”
Chelan County PUD, Chelan-Douglas Land Trust (CDLT) and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) coordinate the annual area closure to protect wintering mule deer and other wildlife.
The City of Wenatchee and Chelan County also support the winter closure of the Sage Hills area by closing trailheads and vehicle access on Horse Lake Road to restrict trail access between Horse Lake Road and Number 1 Canyon.
In addition, the newly developed trails up Number 2 Canyon on U. S. Forest Service land also will be closed to all winter recreation, according to Don Youkey, district wildlife biologist for the Wenatchee Ranger District. That means wildlife can find quiet winter range and browse from Number 2 Canyon across the foothills to Horse Lake Road.
Pope thanked the community for abiding by the annual closure and for helping spread the word on the benefits of staying off the trails – even as cabin fever sets in during early spring. There’s been steady decline in reports of people on the trails during the closure, he said.
“This is a community effort and it takes us all working together to be successful,” Pope added.
Chelan PUD owns about 960 acres in the heart of the Sage Hills and manages the area as a wildlife preserve as required by its federal license to operate Rock Island Dam. The CDLT supports the area closure by closing public access to the Wenatchee Foothills trail system for hiking, biking and horseback riding at some area trailheads.
Following the Dec. 2 closure, and until the Sage Hills Trails reopen, hikers and mountain bikers are encouraged to use the Apple Capital Loop Trail, Saddle Rock, Dry Gulch (main road only), Lower Castle Rock and the Jacobson Preserve trails. A trail map showing alternative routes is posted on the CDLT website.
Hanne Beener, Chelan Douglas Land Trust trails program manager, noted that Chelan County plans to close the gate to vehicles on Horse Lake Road on Dec. 2 as well. The road remains open through the winter for people-powered recreation and leashed pets, but there is no motorized access.
Plans are to reopen the Sage Hills Trails for recreation on or close to April 3, 2020, if habitat conditions allow.
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For more information contact Von Pope, Chelan PUD Wildlife Program manager, at (509) 661- 4625, or firstname.lastname@example.org; CDLT Trails Program Manager Hanne Beener, (509) 667-9708, or email@example.com; or USFS Wenatchee Ranger District District Wildlife Biologist Don Youkey at (509) 548 2580, or firstname.lastname@example.org, or, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife Wenatchee District Office, at (509) 662-0452.
Learn more about Chelan PUD at www.chelanpud.org and find us on Facebook.com/ChelanPUD and follow us on Twitter @ChelanPUD.
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