Eagle River trail closed after bear bites woman's foot

Michelle Theriault Boots

Officials closed a trail near an Eagle River campground this week after a brown bear knocked a Nikiski woman down and bit her foot.

The incident happened on Monday at the state campground along Eagle River near the Glenn Highway, but officials with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and Chugach State Park officials said they didn't hear about it until Thursday. They immediately closed the trail.

The woman attacked by the bear suffered a broken bone, cuts and bruises. She said she told a campground host about the incident but didn't seek medical attention until the next day, after driving back to the Kenai Peninsula.

On Monday night, Tammy Anthony and her husband, Mike, camped at the Eagle River Campground off Hiland Road, a favorite place to spend the night after shopping trips to the Anchorage area. The campground is part of Chugach State Park but is one of four state park campground managed by a private, Palmer-based company called Lifetime Adventures.

In the evening, they decided to walk near the campground on a trail that hugs the Eagle River, Anthony said in a phone interview Friday. They were about a quarter-mile down the trail when she heard a growl.

A grizzly bear sow and cub emerged from the brush, Anthony said. The sow mock charged.

Startled, Anthony screamed and ran, she said. She said she got tangled in brush and fell.

The bear bit her foot. Anthony said. But her shoe -- she was wearing easy-to-remove Crocs -- came off, she said. Her husband, nearby, was trying to scare the animal away.

The bear ran off.

After the bear left, she and her husband, who have lived on the Kenai Peninsula for 21 years, headed back to camp.

Anthony said she was shaken but not terrified. People in camp with a first-aid kit helped her clean out her wound and they decided to stay the night as planned despite the bear incident.

They told a campground host about the attack and warned other campers in the campground, she said.

It wasn't until the next day that she went to a doctor back home.

"I think I'm more scared of doctors than bears," she said.

She has bruising on her leg, a broken bone in her foot, and bear-tooth marks. The bite nicked arteries, so there was a lot of bleeding, she said.

On Thursday, her husband reported the incident to a Soldotna-based Fish and Game wildlife biologist, who forwarded information to Anchorage-area Fish and Game biologists and Chugach State Park staff.

The Anthonys said they were surprised to hear that Fish and Game and Chugach State Park authorities weren't told about what happened until days later.

"Maybe because I didn't go to the emergency room right away they didn't think it was a big deal," Anthony said.

Such a lag in reporting a grizzly bear encounter like that is unusual, said Fish and Game assistant area wildlife biologist Dave Battle.

"We would expect to be notified if an animal made contact with a person," he said. Dan McDonough, the general manager of the company that runs the campground, Lifetime Adventures, said the campground host flagged down an Anchorage police officer in a patrol car who happened to be cruising through the campground and told him what happened.

The APD has no record of a contact between an officer and someone at the Eagle River Campground regarding a bear on Monday, said spokesman Lt. Dave Parker. It's possible the officer didn't file a report or it's not showing up in police records properly, he said.

The campground host also called McDonough on Monday.

McDonough said he didn't forward the information along to Chugach State Park or Fish and Game officials because the woman wasn't seeking medical attention and the couple had decided to remain in the campground for the night.

"I did not think of it as any big deal," he said.

The campground told other campers about the incident, he said.

Bears are common in the area, though black bears are typically the ones that cause trouble at the campground, he said. The trail was outside the campground, he said.

From what he heard, the incident did not sound like a mauling, he said.

"If we were informed differently obviously something different might have happened."

Claire LeClair, the deputy director and chief of field operations for the state Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation, said that park rangers were investigating the lag.

LeClair said state parks would expect a campground host to tell a supervisor, who would in turn tell the parks superintendent and then higher levels of management.

"If there's any kind of an emergency in a (state) campground, that's what we would expect the typical flow of information to be," he said.

No brown bear sightings have been reported in the area since the incident, Battle said.

Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at mtheriault@adn.com or 257-4344.

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