I LOVE the many wildlife viewing events that the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources hosts throughout the year, but I have to say that Mountain Goat Viewing Day goes down as one of my favorites. Every April, we set up spotting scopes at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon (the park and ride lot on the north side of the canyon) and allow folks to get a good look at a mountain goat.
I love the excitement on the faces of those who are looking at their first mountain goat. It doesn’t matter if they are young or old — the thrill is the same. Even the quiet people will burst with glee and suddenly become vocal. It never gets old.
Many first-time goat viewers exclaim that they had no idea the goats were living in the canyon — even having driven the canyon on a daily basis, or lived in the area. This is what I love about my job: introducing people to Utah’s amazing wildlife.
The DWR first introduced mountain goats to Utah when eight goats from Washington State were released in the Twin Peaks area near the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon on June 26, 1967. Five additional goats were released in the same area on July 11 that same year. The goats mysteriously disappeared from 1968 to 1974. Radio collars weren’t a practical option at the time — they were too bulky.
The DWR finally received a sighting report from a member of the public and we flew by helicopter near Hogum Fork and Coalpit Gulch to locate the goats. By 1978, 33 goats were observed on the south side of the canyon. In August of 1999, an amazing 273 goats were counted in the area between the Lone Peak unit and Box Elder Peak units. They were doing great!
In the last few years, many goats again mysteriously vanished and biologists are trying to determine the cause. At our viewing event six years ago, we counted 40 mountain goats across from the park and ride lot. But in the last few years, we’ve only been seeing 10 or 20 in the area.
I am still amazed at the acrobatic nature of mountain goats. You can see them jumping from rock to rock, climbing up the slick, steep cliffs without a problem. It’s of little wonder that predators don’t target them very often.
This year’s viewing event will happen on Saturday, April 19 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. We’ll bring several pairs of binoculars and spotting scopes for folks to see the mountain goats in the canyon. We’ll have posters literature and other displays, as well as fun activities for the kids.
Sometimes, a cell phone camera held up to the spotting scope lens can record a decent photo or video clip.
If you can’t make it to the April 19 viewing event at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon, look out for mountain goats in other parts of the state including Willard Peak, Tushar Mountains and High Uintas (such as the Bald Mountain area). We hope to see you next weekend!