FAIRBANKS - A hiker was bitten by a grizzly bear on the Savage River Alpine Trail on Friday, the same day Denali National Park staff reopened the Savage River area from earlier bear closures.
The hiker, 28-year-old Fangyuan Zhou, was hiking the trail along with two friends when they encountered an adolescent grizzly bear about one-quarter mile from the trailhead. Zhou's group had seen the bear earlier and made efforts to avoid it, but when the bear charged them they played dead.
The bear bit and scratched Zhou before walking away. It returned several minutes later, but a group member was able to scare it off by throwing rocks in its direction.
National Park Service staff provided Zhou with initial medical care, but Zhou chose to take herself to a hospital in Anchorage for additional treatment.
The bear that bit and scratched Zhou was one of the same bears involved in several other incidents in the Savage River area in the last two weeks. Those earlier incidents caused park staff to close much of the Savage River area near 15 Mile Denali Park Road on June 24.
During the closure, park staff attempted to train the bears in the area to avoid humans by using "aversive conditioning techniques." Wildlife technicians had attempted to recondition the bear to avoid human contact by shooting it with bean bags.
On Friday, the park reopened the areas, saying the decision was made in part because no bears had been spotted in the area for five days.
Because of the continued dangerous behavior exhibited by the adolescent bear, park staff said they have intensified management efforts. Park staff plan to locate and kill the bear as soon as safely possible.
Earlier on Friday, the bear had approached another, larger group of hikers, who were able to scare the bear away by grouping together, yelling and waving their arms. The park wished to remind visitors that grouping together, yelling and waving arms is the best way to scare a grizzly away. While playing dead is the proper technique once a bear has already made contact or contact is imminent, playing dead too early can cause the bear to become curious, according to information from the park.
The Denali Park Road and all hiking trails between 13 Mile and 17 Mile are now closed to private vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians. The Savage River Campground is limited to hard-sided RVs, while the parking lot and restrooms at Mountain Vista remain open.
More information can be requested by calling 683-9532 or going online to www.nps.gov/dena.
Contact staff writer Weston Morrow at 459-7520. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMschools.