The urban bear-scare is reaching fever pitch in Anchorage over Rover's Run Trail, but it's not the real problem.
What to do about our Rover's Run hysteria bearsteria?
1. First, the Anchorage Municipality needs to post the exact location of the camera showing the Mama Grizzly and her three offspring instead of casting it out there as though it were taken at some mysterious, remote site. Why? If this photo were taken near the intersection with the Tour Trail, then the bears were obviously ambling on the Tour trail as well. Likewise, if the photo were taken east of the gas line and west of the Far North Bicentennial Park multi-use trail, then the bears were obviously also traveling on trails other than Rover's. Yet these other trails have not been emphasized in any official warnings.
2. The above comment raises an troubling issue, no? Rover's Run extends several miles from the Tour Trail east to the area of the gas line/multi-use/Spencer trail intersections. Unless I have faulty info, none of the maulings or close encounters have been west of the gas line. Think about it: Have there been reported problems near the intersection with Moose Meadow trail, for instance? Haven't all of the attacks taken place in the same area where multiple trails converge? If the bear photo is also from this area of converging trails (the square quarter-mile where the gas line, multi-use, Rover's, Brown Bear, connector to Richter-Ridge, Spencer, two connectors to South Bivouac all crisscross), then perhaps it's time to question whether repeating over and over some boilerplate warning about Rover's Run isn't misleading. I'll go further: Continuing to focus on Rover's Run could be endangering people because it falsely suggests the bears are concentrated along this trail and nowhere else. If you take this "Rover's Run is uniquely dangerous" message at face value, you might bike or run from Hilltop to South Bivouac and never realize that you just penetrated bruin ground zero, so to speak.
3. Here's my take-home, based on weekly (sometimes daily) observations of bear sign on these trails as a runner and biker: Brown and black bears are regularly using all of the Hillside and FNBP trails, just like us humans. The bulk of Rover's Run is no more likely to host brown bears than any other trail equally close to Campbell Creek. In fact, I suspect there's more brown bear activity near the Tour Trail's South Fork bridge and further downstream where the creek is broader and shallower. The North Fork corridor may even have a higher concentration because it has much lower use by hikers, joggers and bikers.
4. But -- and this is the crux of my point -- bear encounters could be slightly more likely in this one area where all of the trails converge. Brown bears will be traveling more often on that portion (Spencer's, multi-use, the South Bivouac access trails, gas line -- and yes, a short section of Rover's) simply because that is the zone where the trails all come together. This entire area won't ever be closed, obviously, since a closure would sever many high-use travel routes. It's the Tudor-Lake Otis intersection of Campbell Creek valley, and we're going to share it with our fellow Hillside omnivores whether we like it or not.
5. So what should we be telling people? Well the general bear-country travel advice on the Municipality and Department of Fish and Game's pages is sound. I'd add this: Be prepared to see bears at any time and any place in FNBP, but be extra cautious near the area where the trails converge. And stop obsessing about Rover's Run. It's not the problem.
Doug O'Harra is a writer who lives, runs and rides in Anchorage.
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