Mountain lion encounter sparks three-day closure of Deer Creek Canyon Park

Officials encourage additional caution after reopening

Bob Wooley
bwooley@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 10/19/20

Driving toward the trailhead, the natural beauty of the surroundings, like most of Colorado’s wild spaces, evokes a sense of peace that draws people in. It’s one of the reasons so many of us love …

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Mountain lion encounter sparks three-day closure of Deer Creek Canyon Park

Officials encourage additional caution after reopening

Posted

Driving toward the trailhead, the natural beauty of the surroundings, like most of Colorado’s wild spaces, evokes a sense of peace that draws people in. It’s one of the reasons so many of us love this state. But occasionally there’s an incident that reminds us of just how wild it can really be.

Deer Creek Canyon Park reopened Oct. 13, after a three-day shutdown that allowed officials from Colorado Parks and Wildlife to search for a mountain lion that had reportedly displayed abnormal behavior in an encounter with a cyclist. During the incident which occurred on the evening of Oct., 9, the mountain lion approached cyclist Kathleen McCarthy while she was riding her bike on Red Mesa trail and stalked her for nearly 30 minutes as she tried to back away from it. McCarthy talked with a 911 dispatcher for the duration of the encounter while she waited for help to arrive. According to Matt Robbins, Community Connections Manager at Jeffco Open Space, McCarthy was able to put her bike between herself and the big cat, which was exactly the right thing to do.

“Remember that as we have migrated and moved up into the mountains, we’re really living in their environment,” Robbins said. “Maintain space, use rocks, a walking stick, or anything else you have, to keep distance between yourself and an aggressive animal.”

In McCarthy’s case, her quick thinking paid off and she wasn’t injured by the cat. Robbins thinks people should always keep in mind that they can’t outrun or outride a mountain lion, and they need to be prepared to fight back if necessary. He also wants to remind Coloradans of some simple tips that can help them stay safe while enjoying open space parks. In his experience, taking easy precautions like making sure pets are leashed, keeping children close — preferably between adults when hiking and recreating in groups instead of alone, can make things safer for humans and animals alike.

“And don’t ride or run with both earbuds in,” Robbins said. “Maintaining the ability to hear what’s going on around you is critical to outdoor recreation.”

McCarthy’s encounter is the most recent of several involving mountain lions in Colorado and other Western states. A viral video on the internet recently featured a close call between a runner and a cougar in Utah, where the big cat repeatedly charged and hissed as the runner tried to back away from it for more than six minutes. And last year, a runner on a trail west of Fort Collins wrestled with an attacking mountain lion until he was eventually able to kill the animal.

Robbins said the most important thing to remember if you run into an aggressive mountain lion is to continue facing the animal.

“Don’t turn your back on it. Don’t run away,” he said. “Running will trigger the cat’s instinct to chase.” For now, Robbins said they have added new signage at the Deer Creek Canyon Park trailhead warning of the mountain lion’s presence and have asked staff and volunteers to man the area when possible during peak times, to remind visitors to use extra caution. He also encourages anyone who has an abnormal or aggressive encounter with wildlife to call 911.

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