On Nov. 14, the Trail Conference’s West Jersey Trail Crew was working in Wawayanda State Park on the long-term project of refurbishing the puncheon on the Cedar Swamp Trail. When we broke for lunch, we went back beyond the start of the puncheon to have a dry place to sit. After about 10 minutes, Bob Jonas, Central North Jersey Trail Co-Chair, noticed that “someone” was coming toward us.
That “someone” turned out to be a large male black bear. He stopped about 30 feet from where we were eating. Bob yelled, “It’s a bear!” and we all got up and began to shout. The bear grudgingly turned and ambled back along the puncheon, with several of us following. He inspected our construction materials and tools, and emptied an unzipped backpack, scattering its contents. Once he got to the far end of that section of puncheon, he stopped–and did not leave. I finally started up a chainsaw, and he ran into the woods. We quickly finished lunch and returned to work, albeit much more cautiously aware of our surroundings.
A little while later, Bob and Estelle Anderson, his co-chair, started to leave. When they got back to the staging area where we had lunch, there was the bear! He had circled back around us, apparently to inspect where the smells of food had come from. He emptied the bag containing my chainsaw gear and ripped open the sawyer’s trauma pack. He clawed at and punctured the seat of the park’s utility vehicle that we were using–maybe he thought it was a cooler. Bob and Estelle started yelling, and the bear moved a little distance away, but stopped. By the time I got back there with the chainsaw, the bear had moved further up the trail, but was still in sight.
Fortunately I had cell service, so I phoned the park office. A park police officer armed with a shotgun arrived after about 20 minutes, by which time the bear was out of sight. The officer reported that this had been his third bear call that day. We packed up our tools and gear, and with a “police escort,” made our way back to the trailhead and our vehicles.
Our bear had three ear tags, and was clearly a known “problem bear,” since these animals are tagged every time one is trapped and relocated. We have seen bears on multiple occasions while working in the woods, but they have always avoided us once our presence was known. However, it seems that bears–like our visitor–are much less wary of humans as of late. Our visitor was unfazed by our presence, and did not leave until he was ready. Those of us who spend time in the woods need to be prepared for the very real possiblity of a bear encounter such as we had.
Bear safety begins with bear education. Learning how to act in the event of a bear encounter, like the West Jersey Trail Crew did, is crucial for the public’s safety, and, especially, the bear’s safety. For more information about how education about bears can help keep parks open, bear safety tips, and more, visit our website.