Moose-Wilson Road reroute to benefit wildlife
$2.3M project to reach from Death Canyon Road to Sawmill Ponds.
By Mike Koshmrl, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
June 6, 2012
A realignment of portions of the Moose-Wilson Road will reduce stress on an important wildlife corridor, improve traveler safety and afford motorists better Teton views, Grand Teton National Park officials said.
The project, part of Grand Teton’s 2007 transportation plan, will move two portions of the northern reaches of the road back to “two-track” paths that were used historically.
“The realignment of the Moose-Wilson road is first and foremost our opportunity to address protection of resources and wildlife,” park spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs said.
The reroute is still in the early design stages and funding is yet to be secured, but construction could begin as early as 2016, park officials said Friday.
The total rerouted distance is likely be in the area of three miles, though that figure is still in flux. A price tag of $2.285 million, listed in the transportation plan’s environmental impact statement, is also very tentative.
The longest portion of the planned realignment stretches from Death Canyon Road to the Sawmill Ponds, Grand Teton’s management assistant Gary Pollock said. Throughout this stretch, the road is sandwiched between wetlands and often steep hills.
“It’s difficult to maintain [the road], but it’s also in an absolutely critical area for wildlife,” Pollock said. “We’re moving it out of that really tight riparian corridor.”
The road’s existing path through several different habitat types sits in the middle one of the most wildlife-rich areas of the park, Pollock said.
A half-mile northeast of the Sawmill ponds, the road’s connection with Teton Park Road will be routed away from its current path. This portion is actually being moved away from the Snake River, because it intersects an important treeline that wildlife uses when traversing the river corridor.
The Moose-Wilson Road will join the Teton Park Road near the Chapel Road and behind the Moose pay station. Currently, the northern entrance to the Moose-Wilson Road sits before the pay station, meaning park visitors can get free access to the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve, Death Canyon and other popular hiking routes.
Wetlands and an abundance of hawthorn and chokecherry berries regularly attract moose and black bears into the area to feed. And in the past several years, grizzlies have started for the first time to make regular use of the corridor as well, Skaggs said.
“We had to close the road last year because of grizzly bears in the area,” she said. “It seemed like every other day in October.”
With thick vegetation obscuring visibility along the winding road, traffic control can prove difficult.
“When people stop to look at the wildlife it’s virtually impossible to untangle the traffic,” Skaggs said.
While the redesign likely will improve roadside parking and viewing areas to help alleviate the wildlife snags, the National Park Service is emphasizing that the road will retain its overall character. Pollock said it would continue to be a “sleepy, back-door entrance into the park.”
“It will maintain generally the same width, and it will still have that country-lane feel to it,” he said.
The Park Service anticipates no changes to when the road will be open. The Moose-Wilson Road will continue to be plowed from Moose south to Death Canyon Road. Reaches south of this point will be left unplowed and ungroomed during winter.
Reclamation of the current route is expected to begin in 2017, following the completion of the new route. The area will be restored to its natural conditions. No hiking trail planned, though the route will not be closed off to bushwhackers, Skaggs said.
Formal public comment on the realignment occurred in 2005, and environmental analyses followed in 2007. Specific site investigation and resource surveys will begin this year, and the formal two-year design phase is scheduled for 2013 and 2014.
The plan has had some detractors throughout the lengthy review, Skaggs said.
“There’s a lot of passionate citizenry, and this has been off and on kind of a controversial process,” Skaggs said. “You’ll find that there are some people that think [the Moose-Wilson Road] should be a bypass to get from point A to point B. That is not the intention of the road.”
The transportation plan does not call for a multi-use path alongside the new route. The realignment, additionally, has no bearing on the multiuse path considered for between the park’s Granite entrance and the Rockefeller preserve. Cyclists will continue to be allowed to use the roadway.