Kachemak Bay State Park trails reopen after bear encounters

Two trails in Kachemak Bay State Park are open again after heightened black bear activity forced staff to temporarily close them last week.

Alaska State Parks Ranger Jason Okuly said staff members started getting numerous calls about bears in the area of the popular Saddle Trail and Glacier Lake Trail, starting last Wednesday. A local water taxi operation called the park to report a group of nine hikers between the Grewingk Glacier Trail and the tram junction couldn’t continue on their journey because a bear would not let them pass.

There was also a report that a bear bluff charged a hiker on Saddle Trail, and another hiker reported a bear stalked them until they got near other hikers. However, Okuly said it’s hard to know the exact circumstances of these encounters.

The afternoon of Wednesday, June 13, Okuly said the park closed both trails.

“We thought, ‘OK, we might have a bear problem,’” he said.

Park staff went across Kachemak Bay to investigate on Thursday, June 14, and to put up signs warning of bear activity. One of the reports had been of a sow with three cubs. Okuly said that when staff get reports of bears, the animals have usually moved on by the time they can get out to search for them.

In this case, park staff did encounter some of the bears that were reported, including the sow. Okuly said staff looked for the kind of behavior that would indicate a “problem bear,” or one that would pose a threat to hikers. This was not the case with the sow.

“She got her this year’s young — three cubs — she saw us, she got her cubs (and) she scurried off into the woods,” he said.

Staff also encountered one of the male bears that had been reported. Though this bear seemed more habituated to people, Okuly said, it did not display problem bear behavior.

“It just wandered around eating grass,” he said of the bear which staff encountered about 20 feet off the trail.

The bear wandered off after about five minutes, Okuly said. Park staff found no bears when they went back to investigate again last Friday. There wasn’t sufficient staff to allow a trip on Saturday, and Okuly said no bears were spotted during a four-hour search on Sunday. On Monday, Okuly said the park decided to completely reopen the trails.

Ultimately, it appears the bears were simply hanging out in the area and have moved on, he said.

“We don’t have bear problems as much as we have tourist problems,” Okuly said, referring to the amount of litter and food waste he found while searching the trails last week.

Leaving scraps like apple cores behind on trails is a good way to attract bears to the area. This is why Okuly said it’s important for all Kachemak Bay State Park users to practice Leave No Trace, a set of standards for hiking and adventuring in the wilderness. Essentially, it means you have to pack out everything that you packed in.

It’s also helpful to keep dogs on a leash while hiking, Okuly said, as it’s not uncommon for bears to chase dogs back to their owners. Traveling in a group of two or more, as well as making noise while hiking, are other ways to reduce the chance of a bear encounter.

“I think, you know, some of the original problems with the bears … is people getting into the bear’s personal bubble,” Okuly said.

When encountering a bear, it’s important to give it space and not attempt to continue on the path a hiker was going down if the bear blocks the way. When people get impatient and try to continue on their way, it can make a bear agitated and stressed, which Okuly said can lead to bluff charges or other warning behaviors, like woofing.

Hikers can report any issues with trails, including bear sightings, to the park at 235-7024 or 262-5581.

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.