Plan for Limited Reopening of Savage River Area

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Date: July 15, 2016
Contact: Kathleen Kelly, (907) 683-9504
Contact: Pat Owen, (907) 683-9547

Denali National and Preserve staff will begin implementing a “soft opening” plan on Monday, July 18 in the Savage River area of the park.

The 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.

Because the bear has not been seen since July 1, park managers have decided to begin reopening the area next week. Openings will be limited and incremental. If the bear is seen in the area, facilities will close immediately for a minimum of another two weeks or until the bear is caught.

On Monday, July 18:

  • Closed portions of the Denali Park Road will reopen to private vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians, 6 am to 9:30 pm, daily. 
  • The Primrose area will reopen to park tour buses and for ranger-led programs. 
  • The Savage Cabin Trail will reopen to hikers and for ranger-led programs. 
  • Both Savage River parking areas will reopen, 6 am to 9:30 pm, daily; however, the Savage Alpine and Savage Loop Trails will remain closed. 
  • The Mountain Vista picnic area will reopen, 6 am to 9:30 pm, daily; however, Mountain Vista trails will remain closed. 
  • The Savage River bus stop will reopen. 
  • Savage River Campground will still be open to hard-sided vehicles only 

On Thursday, July 21:
  • July 18 openings will continue. 
  • Mountain Vista and Savage River Loop Trails will reopen, 6 am to 9:30 pm, daily 

On Monday, July 25
  • July 18 and 21 openings will continue. 
  • The Savage Alpine Trail will reopen. 
  • All facilities will be open 24 hours per day. 

On Monday, August 1
  • 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 have been trying to locate the bear during two closures in the past month. 

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, the area has been closed to private vehicles, ranger-led programs, hiking and cycling while park staff tried to locate and, due to its behavior, kill the bear.

The soft openings will be implemented only if the bear stays out of the area.

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 18, 2016

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Mailing Address:

PO Box 9
Denali Park, AK 99755


(907) 683-9532
A ranger is available 9 am—4 pm daily (except on major holidays). If you get to the voicemail, please leave a message and we'll call you back as soon as we finish with the previous caller.

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