Highway 89 pathway

A cyclist cruises along the pathway between Highway 89 and the National Elk Refuge in the fall of 2017. The National Elk Refuge is seeking public comment on its plans to reauthorize the pathway.

National Elk Refuge managers are taking steps to reauthorize and continue business-as-usual management of the multi-use pathway that parallels Highway 89.

The 6.2 miles of pathway that runs through and alongside refuge land is a type of use that requires a “compatibility determination” every 10 years to be sure it complies with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service policies.

“Compatibility determinations are required for any proposed uses on wildlife refuges,” Elk Refuge spokeswoman Raena Parsons said. “It’s happening now because the previous one expired.”

Other uses of refuge system property that require the once-a-decade reauthorizations include interpretive programs and hunting and fishing seasons, she said.

The National Elk Refuge is not proposing any real changes to its popular pathway, which was constructed in 2011. The compatibility determination — which is open to public comment — does clarify that some electric bicycles qualify as bikes that can be legally used.

The language about e-bikes was added to come into compliance with the U.S. Department of Interior’s new overarching e-bikes policy, which liberalized their use where human-powered bicycles are also allowed.

“Before, it just said ‘bicycles,’ so we’re just clarifying what we mean in terms of bicycles,” Elk Refuge Manager Frank Durbian said. “This kind of matches up with what the Park Service is doing on their portion of the trail.”

Types of bikes that will be explicitly allowed on the refuge pathway include traditional bicycles, unicycles, tricycles, pedal-powered tandem bicycles, and two- or three-wheeled e-bikes with an electric motor that doesn’t exceed 1 horsepower.

The Elk Refuge is not proposing any changes to seasonal closures. The route closes every year by Nov. 1 and reopens no later than May 1. If the number of springtime elk on the refuge dwindles to 2,500, the pathway can also open earlier.

“We feel like these dates are working well,” Durbian said. “Our main and primary concern, obviously, is protecting wildlife migration corridors and preventing disturbance.”

Public input on the pathway reauthorization can be directed to Durbian at frank_durbian@fws.gov. Comments are due by Dec. 10. A copy of the compatibility determination document is attached to the online version of this story at JHNewsAndGuide.com.

Contact Mike Koshmrl at 732-7067 or env@jhnewsandguide.com.

Mike has reported on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem's wildlife, wildlands and the agencies that manage them since 2012. A native Minnesotan, he arrived in the West to study environmental journalism at the University of Colorado.

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