When hiking in an area like the Grand Canyon National Park, one of the most important things to keep track of is your hydration. Drinking plenty of water while exploring is a great way to keep yourself from becoming dehydrated, but for many people, drinking water on-the-go is made possible by disposable plastic water bottles.
These bottles once made up over 20% of the park’s total waste, however, so they’ve been banned in the park and replaced by a more environmentally-friendly option: water stations to allow visitors to fill up their own water bottles regularly and stay hydrated without generating waste.
Unfortunately, hikers aren’t the only thirsty inhabitants of the park. Grand Canyon animals have figured out how to operate the spring-loaded levers on the water stations, and they’ve even become territorial, protecting the stations and attempting to intimidate hikers looking for a drink. About a dozen of these stations were constructed in 2011, followed by the disposable water bottle ban, but one in particular is very popular with the elk. A watering station near the tree line at the South Kaibab Trail has become a hotspot for Grand Canyon wildlife.
Since wild animals may become afraid of humans or protective of their new water source, several options are being explored to discourage animals from frequenting the water stations. Park biologists have tried scaring the animals off with water guns and paintball guns, the latter being vastly more effective. Sometime, when the elk are hit with the water guns, they just open their mouths and enjoy it, but the same obviously doesn’t apply to paintballs.
A more long-term solution is being explored, however. Park officials are attempting to simply “elk-proof” the water stations with metal cages around the lever or even more complicated methods of extracting water from the stations themselves. One station has been outfitted with a new security measure, and if it proves effective, all of the other water stations will be outfitted with similar mechanisms.
How do you feel about these water stations and the elk’s assertive stance on using them? How would you elk-proof something like this? Feel free to share your thoughts and ideas in the comments!