As 15-year-old Petra Davis started down a long road to recovery from the injuries in Sunday's bear mauling, Anchorage city officials were busy trying to close the trail where the attack happened and wondering what to do about a growing problem with people and bears in the city.
Parks and Recreation special projects director John McCleary said the city was posting the Rover's Run trail closed on the advice of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Biologists have been warning for years about the dangers to bikers, joggers, dog walkers, stroller pushers and others encroaching into the territory of bears attracted to Campbell Creek by salmon.
"We're warning people that they are at risk if they use the trail along the creek,'' McCleary said.
At this point, he said, the city has no plans to block the trail, but might discuss that option. He was hopeful most people would obey signs.
"There are a lot of people that do follow directions,'' he said.
Quickly spreading word of the horrific attack on Davis appeared to have put people on alert. Parking lots near Rover's usually popular with midday runners and mountain bikers were noticeably quiet at midday Monday.
Noted Anchorage endurance cyclist Peter Basinger, who likely saved Davis's life with his actions Sunday morning, said he was having second thoughts about riding Rover's, though that trail isn't the only one with bears.
Earlier this year, Fish and Game revealed that a study that involved radio-collaring some bears and collecting hair samples from others for genetic fingerprinting concluded that more than a dozen grizzlies each summer frequent most of the trails in the Campbell Creek area of the city's Far North Bicentennial Park and the adjacent Campbell Tract. Biologists had always known the bears were in the area, but even they were surprised to learn of the large number that take up residence each summer.
"People see Bicentennial Park as an urban park,'' McCleary said, but it is home to more grizzly bears than most statewide wilderness areas. Bear encounters in the area have become so common that many Alaskans engaged in outdoor recreation have come to take them almost for granted.
RACE MOVED FROM KINCAID
Greg Matyas, who helped organize the 24-hour bike race, said the event used the Rover's Run trail after the city ruled out the Black Bear trail in Hillside park because of worries that 60 or more mountain bikes might tear the trail up. No one can say that using Black Bear would have been safer than using Rover's Run, Matyas added, but Rick Sinnott, area wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said that if his agency had been asked for an opinion on route selection, he would have suggested Black Bear.
"I just know Rover's Run is one of the worst for (bear) encounters,'' he said.
Like Matyas, however, Sinnott also stressed that a choice between the two might not have made any difference. Big, dangerous animals are one of the realities on and along many trails in Anchorage, he said. At Hillside Park, it is bears. At Kincaid Park, another popular mountain bike destination and the site of past races, it is moose (although bears are not unheard of there). The race was moved to the Hillside from Kincaid this summer because construction work at Kincaid.
Basinger said he remembered thinking early on that it was nice to be away from Kincaid "because there were no moose. You'd always run into them at Kincaid and with each lap (of the course), they'd seem to get more agitated.''
There have been several close calls with moose in Kincaid events, and though most people consider them less a threat than bears, they are dangerous. Two people have been stomped to death by moose in Anchorage in recent years and many injured.
FIRST SERIOUS MAULING IN CITY
Davis is the first person known to have been seriously mauled by a bear in the city in modern times. No one has been killed by a bear in Anchorage, although a bear did claim the lives of well-known runners Marcy Trent and Larry Waldron along the McHugh Creek Trail south of the city in 1995.
That a mauling might someday happen in Bicentennial Park has been obvious to state wildlife biologists for years. It became only more obvious in the wake of studies by researcher Sean Farley over the course of the past several summers.
Grizzlies radio-collared by Farley regularly showed up on all the trails along Campbell Creek, including the popular Tour of Anchorage Trail near the Bureau of Land Management's Campbell Creek Science Center. Farley documented bears within a quick leap of that busy facility, which regularly hosts family and youth programs.
There have been close encounters with bears too. A pair of runners on the trails at Hillside Park were attacked by a grizzly sow with cubs two weeks ago but somehow escaped injury even though one of them was run over.
Judging from the severity of Davis' wounds, Sinnott said it was mostly certainly a grizzly that attacked too. More than that is unknown. No attempt will be made to identify and track down the bear. Sinnott said biologists could have grabbed some bear hair in the area of the attack for DNA fingerprinting, but there are so many bears along Campbell Creek it would be like taking tire prints on the Glenn Highway after an auto accident.
Bike shops around Anchorage were buzzing about the attack on Monday. Many bikers were worried officials might try to close trails because of it, said Jamey Stull at Chain Reaction Cycles. He is a senior member of the Kaladi-Subway Cycling Team on which Davis rides.
"It's being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It sucks, but we live in Alaska," he said. "That's the thing we deal with."
"This was an accident and a tragedy,'' added Matyas, the owner of Speedway Cycles. "We understand there's a risk involved, but it's probably more risky to commute on your bike."
Several cyclists noted that if they were to be run over by a car and killed while riding their bicycle, it would probably just be a footnote on the local news scene. But national television news programs were trying to contact the Davis family on Monday to get the bear attack story.
Contact Daily News Outdoors editor Craig Medred at 257-4588.