Denali National Park Postpones Reopening Savage River Area Trails and Closes Sanctuary Campground Due to Wildlife Encounters

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Date: July 20, 2016
Contact: Kathleen Kelly, (907) 683-9504
Contact: Pat Owen, (907) 683-9547

Denali National Park and Preserve management and wildlife staff have decided to postpone tomorrow’s scheduled reopening of trails in the Savage River area.

Wildlife biologist Patricia Owen and other park rangers received reports of a bear, or bears, in the Savage River area on Friday, yesterday and this morning.

Mountain Vista and Savage River Loop Trails, which were scheduled to reopen tomorrow, will remain closed for another week.

The reports are vague and no one who can positively identify the sightings as being the bear whose behavior caused the closures initially has seen a bear in the area; nonetheless, Owen said, park officials have chosen to err on the side of caution.

“Until we have reasonable confirmation that it is, or is not, the bear in question, we must be prudent,” said Owen, “no one who can make a positive identification of this bear has seen it,” but the possibility exists.

In addition, two campers at Sanctuary Campground reported wildlife activity in their campsite last night and, according to Owen, a water bottle and water bladder were damaged by, “what could have been a bear.”

Sanctuary Campground will close immediately and remain closed for, “about five days,” according to Owen.

The Savage River area was closed to private vehicles, bicycles and hikers when a sub-adult grizzly bear was rewarded with human food from a backpack after charging and chasing visitors in June and a week later attacked a hiker in the same area. The closures were in compliance with the park’s Bear-Human Conflict Management Plan.

If it is confirmed the bear is in the area, facilities will close immediately for a minimum of another two weeks or until the bear is caught and killed.

Some areas reopened on Monday and will remain open, for now. Those areas include:

  • The previously closed portion of the Denali Park Road; it will remain open to private vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians, 6 am to 9:30 pm, daily. 
  • The Primrose area will remain open to park tour buses and for ranger-led programs. 
  • The Savage Cabin Trail will remain open to hikers and for ranger-led programs. 
  • Both Savage River parking areas will remain open, 6 am to 9:30 pm, daily; however, the Savage Alpine and Savage Loop Trails will remain closed. 
  • The Mountain Vista picnic area will remain open, 6 am to 9:30 pm, daily; however, Mountain Vista trails will remain closed. 
  • The Savage River bus stop will remain open. 
  • Savage River Campground will still be open to hard-sided vehicles only 
The rest of the timeline is tentative, but park officials are hoping to reopen the rest of the popular area for visitors’ enjoyment over the next few weeks. 

On Thursday, July 28: 
  • July 18 openings will continue. 
  • Mountain Vista and Savage River Loop Trails will reopen, 6 am to 9:30 pm, daily. 
On Monday, August 1 
  • Previous openings will continue. 
  • The Savage Alpine Trail will reopen. 
  • All facilities will be open 24 hours per day. 
On Monday, August 8 
  • Tent camping will resume at Savage River Campground. 
  • The area will reopen to backcountry users.
  • Ranger-led programs will resume at Savage River Campground. 
Park wildlife staff will continue to search for the bear, and are working to confirm if current sightings match the description of the bear in question. 

The first closure, which lasted five days, resulted from the bear successfully obtaining food from a visitor’s day pack on June 22. In the days prior, the bear had been charging vehicles along the road and charged a group of visitors. Trying to distract the bear, one member of the group threw a day pack and the bear obtained food from it.

During that closure, park wildlife staff used aversive conditioning techniques, including firing non-lethal bean bag rounds, hoping the bear was young and impressionable enough to become wary of people.

When the bear had not been seen for five days, park officials, as part of the bear management plan, reopened the area.

The second closure resulted when the bear bit and scratched a hiker along the Savage Alpine Trail on July 1.

Since then, park staff have tried to locate and, due to its behavior, kill the bear.

Park officials are reminding everyone, the bears of Denali are wild creatures, free to behave as they wish. If annoyed, these solitary animals can be very dangerous to intruders. Visitors to bear habitat, like Denali National Park, for their own protection, and to keep Denali bears healthy and wild, need to follow basic guidelines:
  • Make noise 
    Most bears prefer to avoid contact with humans so hikers should make noise, especially in areas with low visibility, so the bears know there are hikers in the area. 
  • Stay at least 300 yards away from any bear 
    Respect the bear’s need for personal space. Do not approach it, even to get a photo, and give it as much room as possible. 
  • Do not run 
    Running may elicit a chase response. Bears can run faster than 30 mph (50 km/hr), humans cannot outrun them. If the bear is unaware of you, detour quickly and quietly away. Give the bear plenty of room, allowing it to continue its activities undisturbed. Back away slowly if the bear is aware of you. Speak in a low, calm voice while waving your arms slowly above your head. Bears that stand up on their hind legs are not threatening you, but merely trying to identify you. 
  • Hold your ground 
    Should a bear approach or charge you, do not run; do not drop to your pack. Bears will sometimes charge, coming within feet of a person before stopping or veering off. Dropping a pack may encourage the bear to approach people for food. Stand still until the bear moves away, then slowly back off. 
  • Play dead if contacted by a grizzly 
    If a grizzly makes contact with you, play dead. Curl up into a ball with your knees tucked into your stomach and your hands laced around the back of your neck. Leave your pack on to protect your back. Statistically, most grizzly bear attacks are short, defensive reactions by grizzlies feeling threatened. However, if the attack is prolonged, fight back vigorously. 
  • Fight back against black bears 
    If a black bear makes contact with you, fight back. 
Report all bear incidents and encounters to a ranger. Park rangers and biologists need this information to document bear behavior for research and management purposes.

Last updated: July 20, 2016

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PO Box 9
Denali Park, AK 99755


(907) 683-9532
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