Colorado Springs runners get too close to bear for comfort

By: matt steiner
July 30, 2013 Updated: July 31, 2013 at 7:33 am
photo - City of Colorado Springs Regional Parks and Open Space Ranger Robert Hawley puts up sign to close Stephanie's Trail in Bear Creek Park Tuesday, July 30, 2013 after a bear approached joggers last night. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette
City of Colorado Springs Regional Parks and Open Space Ranger Robert Hawley puts up sign to close Stephanie's Trail in Bear Creek Park Tuesday, July 30, 2013 after a bear approached joggers last night. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette 

One of three joggers who encountered a black bear at Bear Creek Regional Park on Monday described a 10-minute episode in which the animal persistently followed them up a trail.

According to Pattye Volz, a runner who lives in the neighborhood just west of the park in western Colorado Springs, the bear didn't act as frightened as it should have.

"They usually want to get away from you probably faster than you want to get away from them," Volz said. "I didn't feel super threatened, but I knew it shouldn't be doing what it did."

Volz said she and a friend were jogging along an offshoot of Stephanie's Trail just after 7 a.m., not far from Gold Camp Road, when another runner came the other way yelling.

"As she came toward us, we realized she was being chased by a bear," Volz said.

The two friends joined forces with the woman and they decided to stand their ground together, following advice that can be found on the Colorado Department of Natural Resources website in a section titled "Bear Encounters."

All three made themselves look as big as they could, Volz said. They stood tall with hands held high, picked up sticks to knock together and started yelling at the animal, which approached within 10 feet repeatedly.

According to Volz, the animal stopped and backed off periodically. Once the three women began to retreat up the trail the animal returned and moved in close again.

That behavior seemed out of the ordinary to Volz, who has been hiking Bear Creek Regional Park trails about twice a week for the last 15 years.

Randy Hampton, a spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, agreed and said the three joggers "did the right things."

"That is not typical wild bear behavior," he said. "It looks to us like it was a bear that potentially had gotten food from people and had been conditioned to expect that kind of reward."

Officers from Hampton's agency were at Bear Creek on Monday and stayed in the area most of the night, he said. A live bear trap was placed about next to Stephanie's Trail about 50 yards from Gold Camp Road.

The trap is a large cage where officers place pungent food. Hampton said, "the stinkier the better." When a bear enters the trap and pulls the bait, a door shuts behind it.

Hampton didn't expect the animal to be trapped in the heat of the day Tuesday and said officers were getting some rest and would return to the trail in the evening hours "when bears tend to be more active."

If trapped, Parks and Wildlife officers would assess the animal and determine if it is simply a "nuisance" situation or if the bear is dangerous.

In a nuisance situation, the bear would be tagged, given one strike and relocated. Then after a second strike the animal would be euthanized, Hampton said.

"If the bear is deemed to be a risk to human health and safety, the animal is put down immediately," he said.

Just after 1 p.m. on Tuesday a Colorado Springs city worker was at the intersection of Stephanie's Trail and Gold Camp Road, posting signs and closing the trail until the bear is caught or determined to be safe.

Volz said she and the other joggers managed to make their way about 400 yards along the trail. They finally came to that intersection at Gold Camp where two people in a car offered them refuge. Volz said the three joggers were grateful but refused the offer. Instead they ran on the paved roads back to their homes.

"I'm thankful there were three of us," she said. "And I'm very thankful we had the courage to stand up to that bear."



If you surprise a bear on a trail

• Stand still, stay calm and let the bear identify you and leave. Talk in a normal tone of voice. Be sure the bear has an escape route.

• Never run or climb a tree.

• If you see cubs, their mother is usually close by. Leave the area immediately.  

If the bear doesn’t leave

• A bear standing up is just trying to identify what you are by getting a better look and smell.

• Wave your arms slowly overhead and talk calmly. If the bear huffs, pops it jaws or stomps a paw, it wants you to give it space.

• Step off the trail to the downhill side, keep looking at the bear and slowly back away until the bear is out of sight.

If the bear approaches

• A bear knowingly approaching a person could be a food-conditioned bear looking for a handout or, very rarely, an aggressive bear. Stand your ground. Yell or throw small rocks in the direction of the bear.

• Get out your bear spray and use it when the bear is about 40 feet away.

• If you’re attacked, don’t play dead. Fight back with anything available. People have successfully defended them­selves with pen knives, trekking poles and even bare hands.

SOURCE: Colorado department of natural resources

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