A bear is crossing the road. Your Instagram story is empty and ready for grizzly content. The next step you take seems obvious: hop out of your car and snag a picture.
Visitors to Grand Teton National Park can get so excited about sights in the park that they forget to follow proper safety precautions.
C.J. Adams, public affairs specialist for the park, took Scroll reporters around the park and described the best ways students, and all visitors, can show respect to the park when they visit.
“Have a plan when you come to the park,” Adams said.
Lakes from melting glaciers, bison and grizzly bears meandering highways and elk bugling in golden fields are just a few of the awe-inspiring views the park offers. Grand Teton was the fifth top visited National Park in 2020 with 3.3 million visits. Rangers welcome visitors at all times of the year but encourage them to come informed, ready to enjoy the park responsibly.
The Tetons are an incredible summer destination, but before visiting, take the time to learn from a ranger about how to actively better the park as you visit. From recycling to wildlife safety, taking his advice will make your experience in the park more meaningful.
Wildlife is perhaps the most important topic when discussing safety in the park. When a photo opportunity arises with say, a black bear, many people don’t stop to think about how far away from the animal they should be. Understandably, they’re excited. But if they aren’t careful, that excitement can lead to a dangerous situation.
Bears and wolves require 100 yards of distance and other wildlife require 25 yards. This rule stands for someone inside or outside of a car. This helps ensure safety for visitors and the animals.
Adams said that most visitors aren’t intentionally breaking rules when they’re close to wildlife; they simply don’t understand what 100 or 25 yards look like.
100 yards is the length of a football field. 25 yards is… a fourth of that football field.
Viewing the wildlife is encouraged as long as it’s done according to park guidelines; don’t become a black bear’s breakfast — keep your distance.
During the summer, you may see members of the Wildlife Brigade in their green uniforms along the highway. Their job is to keep the wildlife safe while ensuring that park visitors get a chance to enjoy the bison, elk and other animals.
According to Laurie Wofford, a volunteer with the Wildlife Brigade, “The biggest challenge is to nicely move them back and make sure that we gain cooperation without disappointing or without making people upset. Ethical viewing of wildlife is our main job.”
When traffic jams occur because of animals, it’s important to stay alert on the road.
“Everybody is paying attention to the animal, they’re super excited to see the animal and are not necessarily paying attention to the road,” Adams warned. “That’s definitely when you want to have a heightened sense of awareness. Pull over, find a safe place to park, then enjoy that opportunity to see that wildlife.”
Safety on the road is just as much for the animals as it is for tourists.
According to the Natural and Cultural Resources Vital Signs 2019 Report, “Vehicles collided with seven bison, resulting in at least three deaths in 2019. The others were injured and may have died later away from the road.”
As far as general bear safety is concerned, carry bear spray when you’re hiking or camping. Here are a few links to reasonably priced spray: SABRE Frontiersman Bear Spray and Counter Assault Bear Spray.
“Be alert, make noise, hike in groups of three or more, carry bear spray,” Adams emphasized. “And if you see a bear, don’t run.”
“Leave no trace”
Shredded green and blue translucent plastic bottles fill one recycling bin, demolished aluminum cans jam another and broken glass bottles brim the last. These separated recycling bins stand right inside the doors of the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center.
The park is focused on sustainability. According to the University of Alberta, “Sustainability means meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Grand Teton strives for this goal; Adams says that one way to reach it is by ensuring that no trash litters the scenery. The park uses source-separated recycling, dedicating bins specifically to glass, aluminum or plastic.
Disposing of waste in ways the park has provided will help them to achieve their zero-landfill goal. They’ve partnered with Subaru in a Zero Landfill Initiative, which seeks to “reduce 60% of its waste from landfills by 2030, getting the park one step closer to zero waste,” according to Grand Teton. This will also help decrease pollution in the environment.
Subaru actively turns trash into tools. They’ve paired with TerraCycle, an innovative recycling business, to eliminate landfill by repurposing it into items like park benches and bike racks.
“The objective of the Zero Landfill Initiative is to use Subaru’s expertise to identify, test, and promote practices that reduce the amount of trash parks sent to landfills,” stated Grand Teton.
Tourists can contribute to this environmental cause: reduce, reuse and recycle, then do it again. Our parks deserve preservation of their beauty.
Fire safety, dogs and trails
“One of the things we saw a lot of last year was abandoned campfires,” Adams said.
Fires that are not properly attended to can easily lead to wildfires. According to the Insurance Information Institute, 90% of wildfires happen because of people. including unattended campfires. Details on past wildfires in Grand Teton can be found here.
“Make sure it’s basically cold to the touch and that the fire is dead out before leaving that area,” Adams said. “Sometimes people think that pouring a little bit of water on it makes that fire go away, but it reignites.”
This is one of the key messages the park wants visitors to adhere to this year.
It’s likely you’ve experienced hiking in canyons that have differing rules for dogs on the trails. Rules for dogs in Grand Teton depend on where in the park visitors are.
“They’re allowed in Grand Teton, but they’re basically only limited to areas where you can take a vehicle,” Adams shared.
They’re not allowed on trails in the park. One reason for this is that dogs can disrupt wildlife. If they mark their territory around the trail, other wildlife may not come to that area anymore. Dogs can also potentially pass diseases to various wildlife.
— Hiking and walking trails
Lastly, remember to keep to the trails that are paved. Not only is it unsafe to venture off trails because you’re in bear country, but it can also disrupt the surrounding vegetation.
Most importantly, enjoy your time in the park. AllTrails has 114 hiking trails listed for Grand Teton.
Recreating responsibly is a means to an end. The park’s ultimate purpose is for tourists to enjoy the beauty that the mountains and lakes offer. This park is a special place with a rich history. Take your time on its trails; admire the peacefulness of Jenny Lake as you take a boat ride across it; hold your breath in wonder as a herd of bison crosses the street in front of you; toss flat pebbles over the surface of String Lake.
These experiences are just a few that the park offers. Recreating responsibly will bring these experiences to life.
As Adams said with quiet respect, “That’s what it’s about, keeping this place special for generations to come.”