OGDEN, Utah (AP) -- Take a trek to Willard Peak or Ben Lomond and a close encounter with a scraggly, sure-footed beast is more than likely.
The Rocky Mountain goat population has been growing rapidly since the first six animals were dropped off at Willard Basin Campground in 1994.
''I usually see one up here, sometimes right from Inspiration (Point). But today might be the day I don't,'' Rick Schulze, Box Elder conservation officer, said on a recent trip.
He did. In fact, he saw 35, a new Division of Wildlife Resources record for the area. If the most recent population estimate -- 40 to 45 -- is anywhere close, that's most of the goats.
The stay-at-home goats are not difficult to find. Rarely are they seen on the east slope of the peaks and rarely do they venture south of Ben Lomond or north of Willard Canyon.
That's good news for the one lucky hunter a year that draws a goat permit for the unit. Schulze calls the hunt ''one of the easiest around.'' It's also good news for wildlife watchers. A one-hour drive up a rough dirt road -- you can probably make it in your Honda but you might not want to -- from Mantua to Inspiration Point, a 1.5-mile hike to Ben Lomond and a bit of patience is all it usually takes to get a glimpse.
The population was given a boost in 2000, with the addition of three adult ewes from the Provo unit. The purpose was not to shore up the thriving population, simply to bring some ''different blood'' into the gene pool, Schulze said.
If this year's crop is any indication, that number will continue to rise -- even without outside help. Kids were nearly as frequent as adults among the cliffs of Ben Lomond and Willard Peak that day. They're nearly as agile, too.
''What amazes me is what the little ones can do. I mean, these kids'll be running up through these rocks with the ewes -- right at the edge, too and without any effort at all,'' Schulze said.
Despite sporadic reports that have placed the goats as far south as North Ogden Pass and as far north as the southern slopes of the Wellsville Mountains, Schulze believes the rough, bare cliffs at the top of Weber County will provide the best habitat for the animals.
The Wellsvilles, though steep enough, may have too much cover for the goats, which rely heavily on their sight.
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