Driving the road along the shore of Brainard, I spotted the large antlers poking above the willows, like a periscope of a submarine. The large bull moose was intent upon eating, tearing at the supple branches of willows, one after another. Other visitors pulled to the side of the road, to capture the magic of the moment through photos.
During the last 15 years, moose at Brainard Lake National Recreation Area has become more and more common. So much so, that you can almost guarantee during the course of a week moose will show up somewhere among the trail heads and lakes that comprise one of the busiest recreation areas in all of Colorado. But two years ago during this time, the presence of moose took on a whole new perspective.
Colorado issues permits for hunters to hunt moose using bow and arrow during the month of September. It is good for all national forest land, including Brainard Lake Recreation Area. Brainard Lake is unique among Forest Service Recreation Areas, in that it feels more like national park, and less like Forest Service land.
The scenery is knock-your-socks off stunning with large, jagged granite peaks and cirques serving as the backdrop to high alpine lakes like Brainard, Long and Blue Lakes. During July, it is filled with wildflowers of every kind with pinks, purples and yellows dotting the landscape. And as mentioned, it makes for wonderful habitat for wildlife including moose and bear.
Couple that with the fact it is located off the popular scenic byway, the Peak to Peak Highway connecting Estes Park with Idaho Springs, traveling up to 9500 feet in altitude along the rugged Indian Peaks Wilderness, and it’s easy to see why it is so popular. And popular it is, drawing visitors in droves all summer long, many of them traveling to and from the equally popular Rocky Mountain National Park. During the high visitation months of July and August, if you don’t get there by 9 a.m., you probably will be turned away at the gate due to lack of parking.
Though September is somewhat slower, it still draws its fair share of visitors to enjoy the fall foliage. Because so many of Brainard’s visitors are tourists and national park patrons, I doubt any of them are thinking about hunting while taking at stroll along its picturesque shores.
But two years ago, some visitors who were photographing all this Rocky Mountain scenery instead were stunned by a bow hunter who took a bull moose right in front of them. The moose didn’t instantly die, instead stumbling bloodily toward the group of tourists who looked on with horror. The incident made the local papers and instantly spurred a debate.
As a local who frequents Brainard Lake, I don’t think any type of hunting should be allowed within at least a mile of any trail or road. It is a tourist destination where people go for quiet walks to observe wildlife, not watch them being killed. I’m not against hunting. I’m the first to admit we have had a huge uptick in the moose population around Nederland, and I’m all for hunting as a way to maintain a healthy population. As long as it can be done safely.
Brainard is far too busy that hunting can be done safely. It’s time to recognize that this special place needs a ban on hunting within its environs to protect the safety of all who go to enjoy its beauty.