Two Park City Citizens Ensure Elk Herd Crosses SR 224 Safely

Jan 14, 2020

Credit Save People Save Wildlife

The two-mile stretch on SR 224 by the White Barn is the 5th worst spot for vehicle/wildlife collisions in the state of Utah. With an elk herd that winters between the McPolin Farm and Round Valley, it’s an especially dangerous area this time of year.

KPCW has a story of how a couple of residents made certain Tuesday morning would be a safe crossing for the herd and motorists.

Lorelei Combs and Erin Ferguson are two of the founders of the organization Save People Save Wildlife. They, along with others in the community, pressed the Utah Department of Transportation, UDOT to address the wildlife death zone along I-80 between Jeremy Ranch and Parley’s Summit. Now fencing and a wildlife bridge funnels animals safely across the busy highway with what UDOT and DWR biologists are calling astounding success. The bridge was approved in conjunction with a lane expansion project scheduled for that part of I-80.

On Tuesday, Combs was driving northbound on SR224 when she noticed the elk herd on the west side of the road trying to cross. In the winter, the herd beds down at night on the McPolin farm and moves into Round Valley during the daylight hours, usually crossing the road at dawn and dusk. She saw two police cars parked on each side of the road with flashing lights presumably to help alert drivers about the herd’s presence.  Ferguson said she received an early morning call from Combs asking her to come help. When Ferguson arrived, she saw the traffic continue to speed by despite the presence of police vehicles. She pulled into the center lane and turned her hazard lights on and got out of her car to indicate to drivers they needed to slow down.  “The police officer did not like that. So, he immediately left his location near the elk, drove over to me and parked 45 degrees across the two lanes with his red and blue lights on so, it's like oh thank you for your help. And, he’s like, you can’t do that. That’s not safe. I'm like well we need your help. We need you to do that. You should have been doing that, what I just did. You know while we're talking it's going to take them two minutes to cross the road once they have a break in traffic. Watch.

Ferguson says elk are characteristically very skittish and she was concerned the continuous traffic would preclude the animals from making the crossing. She said it was just a matter of minutes of traffic being stopped that the herd crossed SR 224 and moved up the hillside towards Round Valley.

“Once the officer by Lorelei’s car westbound saw what the officer by me was doing, he pulled out into traffic, same way, 45 degrees [and] blocked both lanes. People were respectful in both directions and waited and sure enough you know the one elk runs out and then you know, they all followed and then, game on!”

Save People Save Wildlife has asked UDOT to budget for a wildlife bridge to span SR224. The tunnel near the white barn was built for humans and according to experts won’t accommodate elk or moose due to their behavioral characteristics and size. Ferguson says it is now the perfect time to budget for a wildlife bridge because UDOT is willing to include such projects in their road improvement planning. Ferguson says making the road safer for vehicles and wildlife meets the stated UDOT objective of Zero Fatalities.

“Seems like that is the solution we should strive for, especially while the windows open for budgeting and planning for the [SR] 224 bus lane and bike path improvement projects. So, that's save people save wildlife. Hey, the window of opportunity is open. Let's take advantage and get budgeting for it and planning for it.

Go to KPCW to see pictures of the early morning elk crossing and to read the letter Save People Save Wildlife sent to UDOT immediately following the incident.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX Please find the following pictures from 7:15 this morning showing a huge safety concern supporting our need for wildlife fencing and a safe passage for the elk herd along SR224.  Local authorities, private citizens all had to get involved putting their safety at risk this morning.  Since this has been designated the 5th largest hotspot for wildlife-auto collisions in Utah what can we do to help UDOT implement wildlife mitigation along this dangerous highway?

A timely response would be very much appreciated. Lorelei Combs

SPSW understands that Summit County Council’s transportation planning department is working with UDOT on an S.R. 224 corridor plan and conducting environmental assessments for bus rapid transit.  SPSW is concerned that there is no row or any kind of fencing along the east side of S.R. 224 around milepost 7 and 8.  UDOT has recently reduced the speed limit temporarily in this area due to the excessive amount of wildlife collisions.   This is a migratory path for a local elk heard that must cross SR 224 every day in order to gain access to their winter grounds.   SPSW would like to understand how UDOT intends to prevent wildlife collisions moving forward with a population increase in this area of over 200% since 1980 and no provisions have been made to prevent vehicle wildlife collisions other than a reduction in speed by 10 mph in this area.  Whatever existing ROW on the west side is in complete disrepair, and non-existing on the east side.  If you would please let us know what plans are in place for fencing along this highway and a safe passage for the wildlife to cross, would be appreciated.

Thank you.

Lorelei Combs