Boulder’s Mapleton Hill is Home to Visiting Bull Elk — Again

November 10, 2018 GMT

A large, solitary bull elk has settled into Boulder’s Mapleton Hill neighborhood, browsing through backyard gardens and providing an ample harvest of photo opportunities for area residents.

That didn’t work out well for another elk nearly six years ago.

“I was on a heated business call in my office 20 minutes ago, and looking out my window, and saw it munching away,” said Heath Thomson, who lives near Spruce and Sixth streets. He came outside to finish his call, as he watched the elk foraging for its lunch.

The history of exotic wildlife in Boulder city limits has no darker chapter than that of “Big Boy,” the trophy bull elk that was frequenting Mapleton Hill at the end of 2012 — delighting many who live there — until it was shot and killed by then-Boulder police officer Sam Carter in the early hours of New Year’s Day 2013.

Carter claimed after the fact that the animal had been injured and needed to be put down.

Carter did not report that he had fired his weapon that night, or that he needed to kill the elk. Boulder police initially denied knowing of the shooting at Ninth and Mapleton streets, because Carter had never told them of his actions.

Text messages between Carter and another former Boulder police officer showed that he had planned to make the kill.

Carter, at trial in June 2014, was found guilty of attempting to influence a public official, a Class 4 felony; one count of forgery, a Class 5 felony, and two counts of tampering with evidence, Class 6 felonies. Other counts on which he also was convicted included illegal possession of a trophy elk with a Samson Law surcharge (named for a bull elk poached in Estes Park in 1995). He was sentenced in August 2014 to four years probation, 200 hours of community service, 30 days on a work crew and $10,200 in state wildlife fines.

“It was pretty horrible,” said Thomson, referring to Big Boy’s fate, which was even lamented in a song recorded by area musician Jonathan Bennett , “The Ballad of Big Boy.”

Thomson said he had enjoyed a “magical” moment with Big Boy in December 2012, describing an encounter on a snowy night when he stepped outdoors after midnight to enjoy the storm.

With the pristine snow piling up around him, the scene illuminated only by the street lights, he said Big Boy “just came walking down the middle of the street, seemingly in slow motion. It was amazing.”

Thomson was not the only one fascinated Friday with the latest elk to inhabit the neighborhood. Michael Hankal, who was walking from his home down to the bus station, happened upon the animal and paused to take a few pictures. He was not aware of another elk’s misfortune nearby in 2013.

“I think it’s great,” he said about the new visitor, before heading on to the bus station. “I want to see elk, deer ... I want to see any kind of animal.”

Peter Boyatt, Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s district wildlife manager for south Boulder County, said the agency is aware of the new Mapleton Hill elk — and he of course knows what happened to Big Boy. Nevertheless, Boyatt said he has “no concerns” about the latest unusual visitor.

“I mean, elk and moose and bear and lions are going to come down into Boulder. And, just, a bull elk has decided to come down here for whatever reason and we’ll see how long he stays,” Boyatt said.

CPW, he said, is monitoring the situation.

“As long as it’s not causing any trouble, or getting stuck in any wire or anything like that, then we’ll probably just leave it be. And hopefully, it will make its way west,” Boyatt said.

He added that “any number of things” could have influenced the animal’s decision to tour Mapleton Hill for a few days, but that generally, elk tend to make their summer range to the west in the Indian Peaks Wilderness and then drop down toward Nederland — and even lower elevations — as the season’s snows set in.

“We are starting to see a trend, though, across the Front Range, with elk moving down to lower elevations,” Boyatt said. “There are areas that are refuge spaces, or large pieces of private property where elk can eat and thrive.”

Thomson noted that the latest Mapleton Hill elk, while seemingly fully grown, might be sick — or at least not thriving— based on the prominence of its ribs and occasional drooling that he’d spotted. One point on its prodigious rack also appeared to have been broken off.

However, Thomson said as he studied it from about 30 feet way, “I would not want to go head to head with those antlers.”

Charlie Brennan: 303-473-1327, brennanc@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/chasbrennan