Popular trail reopens after protective shutdown

Golden eagle nest caused closure lasting nine months in Backcountry

Posted 9/11/18

After a nine-month closure to protect a golden eagle's nest, a popular trail in the Backcountry Wilderness Area is now open for use. Wildcat Mountain Trail, a loop for mountain bikers, runners and …

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Popular trail reopens after protective shutdown

Golden eagle nest caused closure lasting nine months in Backcountry

Posted

After a nine-month closure to protect a golden eagle's nest, a popular trail in the Backcountry Wilderness Area is now open for use.

Wildcat Mountain Trail, a loop for mountain bikers, runners and hikers, starts east of Monarch Boulevard and leads to a cliff south of Rock Canyon High School. The top has unparalleled views of the Front Range.

Since 2011, the Backcountry Wilderness Area, which accounts for 8,200 acres of conservation land southwest of the Highlands Ranch community, has closed the trail from January to late August or early September for golden eagles. The raptors typically nest in March.

Mark Giebel, director of the Backcountry Wilderness Area, believes the same pair of eagles returns year after year.

“The rare thing about this nest is that golden eagles nesting in urban areas isn't a common thing,” Giebel said.

Before the trail system first opened in 2006, Giebel's department put stipulations in place that were in line with the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, a federal statute that protects the two species of eagle by prohibiting human contact. Penalties are fines or jail time.

Giebel knew raptor and eagle nesting in the area was a possibility. Historically, he said, eagles have nested on Wildcat Mountain as far back as 1936.

“We had rules in place that said if raptors were nesting on cliffs, we would close that trail,” Giebel said. “We are very conservative with our closure and make sure we give the eagles ample time to grow up and leave the nest.”

Libby Price tracks their progress. The resident calls herself the "eagle mama."

About 10 years ago, she and her husband moved from Cincinnati to Highlands Ranch to be closer to family. Both retired, they were looking for volunteer opportunities. They met with Giebel and started monitoring trails in the Backcountry.

One day, Price spotted a Golden Eagle's nest on Wildcat Mountain Trail's cliff. The animal has since captivated her. Once a week, she uses a spotting scope or binoculars to check on the nest. She names the fledglings. The two hatched this year she calls Peek and Boo.

“We just got caught up with it,” Price said. “We are not bird people, but it was just so fascinating to watch them have their babies, take care of their babies, protect them, talk to them. We had no idea that eagles had this kind of compassionate behavior.”

Since 2011, nests on Wildcat Mountain Trail have produced six Golden Eagle fledglings. That speaks volumes to the importance of the Backcountry.

“Without the conservation of the Backcountry, this eagle nest probably wouldn't be there,” Giebel said. “It demonstrates why conservation is important. It's kind of a symbol of conservation.”

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