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White Mountains trail closed after grizzly accosts family

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Posted: Tuesday, August 20, 2013 11:38 am | Updated: 9:24 am, Sun Aug 25, 2013.

FAIRBANKS - A hiking trail in the White Mountains National Recreation Area north of Fairbanks has been closed after a big grizzly bear accosted a family picking berries along the trail last weekend.

The Bureau of Land Management temporarily closed the Table Top Mountain Trail off Nome Creek Road about 45 miles northeast of Fairbanks while it investigates the incident. The 3-mile loop trail is a popular hiking and berry-picking destination.

BLM spokesman Craig McCaa said the bear, described as a large grizzly, approached the family of four, which included two small children, several times as they were picking berries near their camp on Saturday night. The father fired several warning shots at the animal with a .44-caliber handgun to scare it away but the bear persisted with its aggressive behavior, McCaa said.

“They pulled camp and hustled down the trail and heard a crashing noise in the brush,” he said.

The bear then evidently charged the father, who put himself between the bear and his family, McCaa said. The man fired his last two shots  at the bear but wasn’t sure if he hit it.

“It was quite dark at that point,” McCaa said.

According to a narrative written by BLM ranger Jonathan Priday, who interviewed the man, the bear “made an unnatural movement into some thick vegetation” after the father shot at it. Priday checked the trail on Sunday but found no sign of the bear, McCaa said. 

Priday and the father returned to the area on Tuesday to see if they could find any sign of the bear and to determine if the bear was possibly wounded or killed.

The man reported the shooting to Alaska Wildlife Troopers as a defense of life and property shooting and plans to skin the bear if he finds it, as law requires, McCaa said.

BLM put up signs to alert hikers and berry pickers that the trail is closed because of the bear encounter, McCaa said.

It’s possible the bear is the same one that uprooted and pilfered a pair of bear-proof trash cans at the nearby Ophir Creek Campground back in June. Nobody ever saw that bear but tracks on the road indicated it was a large grizzly, McCaa said. The trail is about two miles from the campground.

“We don’t  know if it’s the same bear or not,” he said. “There’s no way to tell, especially since nobody ever saw that bear.”

Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587.

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