(Grand Teton National Park , WY– YPR) – Human engineers faced off against nature’s engineers in an effort to save a scenic road in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park (GTNP).
“Beavers have been called the civil engineers of the natural world because they are prone to making these very extensive dams,” says park spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs.
One extensive dam and lodge flooded a portion of the scenic Moose-Wilson Road in GTNP. As a result park staff placed a system of perforated pipes in the pond in early August to gently flow water through the dam and lower the water level.
“We were concerned that we were going to lose the road all together,” says Skaggs.
The beavers had other ideas.
Nature photographer Jackie Gilmore of Jackson Hole, WY says within hours of the park’s mitigation work the beavers began to plug up all of the holes in the pipe with mud.
“The term ‘busy as a beaver’ was really obvious,” Gilmore says. The adults in this family of nine beavers quickly got to work, “going back and forth doing all this work,” she details. Within a few hours she says the water level began to rise again in the beaver pond.
So GTNP officials went back to the drawing board.
This time they installed a bigger bundle of longer pipes. Skaggs says they are 30 feet long. She says the system was designed to gently divert the water through the dam and further downstream.
Given the ingenuity of the beavers, however, park crews took steps to protect their work. There’s a wire cage at the front to keep the beavers from plugging up the pipes with sticks and mud. Posts also hold the pipes in place. Skaggs says beavers have been known to raise such pipes, rendering them ineffective.
She says signs will be put up at the beaver pond to explain how this system works. “We’re trying to find that nice balance to protect the park road but also protect the beavers, our number one priority.”
Gilmore, who’s been a nature photographer since 1978 in Jackson Hole, praises park officials for protecting the beaver’s habitat. She’s been watching this beaver family up close all summer. She says many times a crowd would gather.
“Everyone was able to see what they look like, how they acted, and there were points where you could actually see their large incisor teeth they use to cut off the branches,” she says. “And if everybody was quite quiet and respectful you could hear them chewing and every once in a while they would make this humming sound. It was just an amazing experience,” she says.
Skaggs says the Moose-Wilson Road is a destination for Grand Teton National Park visitors because of the abundance of wildlife, including moose and a great grey owl.
She says because of that there have been conflicts between wildlife and people. So this beaver battle has drawn new attention to a plan to move the road. The road re-alignment is just one project in a a larger Grand Teton National Park transportation plan, signed in 2007. Skaggs says park officials are hopeful funding will allow the project to proceed in 2015.