‘It went exceptionally well’: I-80 reopens as wintering elk return to Parleys Canyon

Mar 19, 2023, 3:37 PM | Updated: 7:08 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — A large elk herd that found refuge in a Salt Lake City golf course this winter is back home in Parleys Canyon.

Dozens of spectators lined up to watch as the elk sprinted back to their native habitat as a part of a mitigation effort conducted by Utah wildlife biologists and law enforcement Sunday morning. The elk crossed freeways and used pathways on their journey from the Salt Lake Country Club back into the canyon in about 10 minutes.

KSL-TV Chopper 5 cameras, which tracked the herd throughout the process, captured footage of the herd taking a brief break near a quarry in the canyon before continuing farther into it.

Interstate 80, which was temporarily closed in both directions because of the mitigation efforts, reopened shortly after 10:30 a.m. All other roads that were closed, including parts of I-215 and Foothill Drive, are open again.

“I thought it went exceptionally well. I am all smiles,” said Utah Division of Wildlife Resources spokesman Scott Root.

About 80 elk had been camping at the Salt Lake City golf course located near the mouth of Parleys Canyon for over a month, according to the division. The animals caused I-80 closures as they ventured into the valley in late January and early February as they escaped the snow-packed canyon looking for food.

Since the wintry conditions were stressing the elk, the division ultimately decided to let the elk rest there until the conditions in the foothills improved, Root explained. Wildlife biologists say now that deep snow has melted from the south-facing slopes in the mountains near Parleys Canyon, they believe the elk will be able to find food in their native habitats.

“We felt like it was a good day,” he said. “We realize that this stressed the elk but for public safety reasons, we had to get these elk back to where they belong up there in that higher country.”

Biologists and police formed a “human line” that sparked the mitigation efforts Sunday. Emergency vehicles were also used in the process as the elk returned to Parleys Canyon.

Even though more storms are in the forecast this week, including the possibility of multiple inches of snow in the foothills, Utah wildlife officials said the elk should be able to handle the storm. Most of the snow in the foothills the herd ran to has already melted, providing elk with the food they are looking for from their native habitat ahead of the storm.

Any new snow may not last very long as Utah slowly transitions into spring. It can melt quickly, especially on south-facing slopes.

That said, wildlife officials will continue to keep an eye on the elk in case they do try to return to the valley.

“We’re hopeful that they’ll stay up there in the higher country,” Root said. “If they do start coming back down, hopefully, we can push them back up before they get back across Foothill Boulevard.”

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‘It went exceptionally well’: I-80 reopens as wintering elk return to Parleys Canyon