A smiling and obviously eager guide greeted me. Doris was slightly built, wore forest colored clothing and carried bear spray on her belt. It seemed highly cautious of her, given that our family had taken walks near this same visitor center plenty of times and never, even saw bear tracks. WE never carried bear spray. “Oh well, I thought, part of the uniform.”
After walking some distance and discussion about the different kinds of plants and trees, the signs of browsing…that is, exactly what animals browsed on the clipped off plants, I asked Doris about the bear spray.
“Oh, there are grizzly here,” she patted the canister. “I almost had to use it once. It was right over there.” She pointed in the direction of the visitor center cabin. Then she went on to tell the story.
“I’ve been conducting visitor tours of the Chugach State Park for 18 years. This is what happened one summer evening, a few years ago …
Another naturalist and I were leaving the visitor’s center with a group of people who were there to watch activity at a nearby beaver dam.
The group was escorted down the lower trail by the other guide, while I returned to my office for my binoculars.
I hurried out the door and took the upper trail that had been cut through tall trees and dense shrubbery. I was soon out of sight of the building.
Suddenly a grizzly bear was on the path, heading straight for me at a fast pace. I stopped, my heart pummeling the inside of my chest. “Ho bear, ho bear,” I said. Did I sound calm? I was terrified! Somehow, I remembered my training. ‘Don’t run, whatever you do, don’t run.’
The grizzly swerved off the trail going about ten feet into the brush. His eyes stayed on me. So, I waited. I didn’t move. That’s what you have to do.
He returned to the trail again and came toward me. Oh no, I thought. Not good! I backed up. Knowing the trail very well, I could back up without turning. I backed toward the pond that was further down the hill and stepped behind tall bushes. I was hidden from the grizzly’s view, and I couldn’t see it.
Where was it? My heart continued to pound. I wanted to scream but knew better. Loud human noise would upset it further. Finally, I pushed aside branches to see where the bear was. It had come another 20 feet in my direction and was standing on its hind legs, clapping his jaw and drooling.
To my right, about as far away as the length of a soccer field, I could hear the other guide and the people. They had no idea I was in trouble. I needed help, but how could I get their attention?
I waved and pointed.
They saw me and waved back.
They didn’t understand! What to do?
I took a chance. I yelled, while pointing, “BEAR!”
Finally, someone in the group saw the bear.
“He’s coming after you,” the person shouted.
He was approaching me.
I took out my bear spray and put my finger on the nozzle.
For some unbelievable reason, the grizzly stopped, then walked to my left.
He looked at me with what seemed like a scowl.
I didn’t move.
Then he walked off. Just like that? Maybe he was only circling around me. I shook as I stood there wondering where he was. I looked at my watch. Five minutes. I won’t move for five minutes.
I couldn’t see him. Where was he? Had he loped into the forest, or was he nearby, still deciding what to do?
Just then a man and woman emerged onto the trail. I called, ‘Stop! Don’t move.’ The man looked at me like I was crazy. They continued walking.
I pointed and repeated, ‘Stop, it’s a bear.’
Both of them froze on the spot. I slowly worked my way to them, as they had no bear spray. The woman started to run, the worst thing you can do when a bear is near. The man grabbed her.
Just then, I heard a truck. The other naturalist had notified the rangers in the visitor’s center. They were coming to the rescue.
When the truck neared us, the bear bounded across the road!
It was awesome to realize that the grizzly had merely moved out of my view and had remained in the brush not far from where I and the young couple were standing.
I found out later why the bear had been so stirred up. It had encountered people earlier, and these people had screamed and had run. For the grizzly, that was the action of prey. When he saw me on the trail, I suppose I looked like prey to him.
Later, the bear was tranquilized by the rangers and taken by truck to a location far from the visitor’s center. For many nights after that I had a difficult time sleeping, as I had been so frightened. But I’m so happy that the bear still lives in this great park. Now I am fine and once more work in the forest, sometimes alone. But I ALWAYS take my bear spray.”
Eagle River Nature Center (ERNC): http://www.ernc.org/who-we-are.html