Sage Hills remains closed until Apr. 1 to help wildlife migrate to higher elevations

by Rachel Hansen | Mar 17, 2021

After a long winter inside, it’s understandable that people are eager to take advantage of Wenatchee’s foothills trails as the days get longer and sunnier. But recreationists are being asked to hold off using the Sage Hills and Horse Lake Reserve trails system until their anticipated opening on April 1.

Migrating mule deer need quiet range land to find sustenance, especially in March. That’s why Chelan PUD coordinates with the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust and the City of Wenatchee to close the Sage Hills and Horse Lake areas from December to April. Chelan PUD manages about 960 acres in the heart of the Sage Hills as a wildlife preserve as required by its federal license to operate Rock Island Hydro Project.

“Deer have been losing fat all winter. When the first grass starts to grow in the foothills – the ‘green up’ – this provides their first source of good calories in several months,” said Von Pope, senior wildlife biologist at Chelan PUD.

Incidentally, the first “green up” occurs at the same elevation as many of the Sage Hills trails. Disruption from trail users burns unnecessary energy for deer and keeps them from those vital calories, Pope said.

Off-leash dogs are of particular concern. Mule deer are sensitive to canines and will move out of the area, even if dogs are far away. This is energy they cannot afford to expend this early in the season, especially for pregnant does.

“Staying off the trails until April will allow the ‘green up’ to occur at higher elevations, providing the deer with more foraging opportunities,” Pope said.

The Sage Hills closure does not mean people are without options until April, said Hanne Beener, trails program manager at Chelan-Douglas Land Trust. Trails at Saddle Rock, Jacobson Preserve, Castle Rock, and the road at Dry Gulch are all open year-round.

The foothills system saw unprecedented use last spring and summer as people looked for new ways to get outside during the pandemic. Beener expects that trend to continue this year.

“It’s not uncommon to see people venture out to Sage Hills before it opens, especially new users,” she said. “But we are really hoping folks can hold off for just two more weeks.”

Chelan PUD will continue to monitor trail conditions and deer counts leading up to the anticipated April 1 opening.  Any changes to this official opening will be announced by the PUD and their Sage Hills trails partners.

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