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July 3, 2010
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Bear scare closes campsites near Aspen

ASPEN - Camping spots on upper Castle Creek Road were closed by the U.S. Forest Service Friday after a black bear invaded tents to get food Wednesday night and Thursday.

No one was hurt in either incident, according to Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Scott Snelson. Officials posted warning signs urging campers to make sure food was properly stored in vehicles after Wednesday's incident. When a bear attacked a tent at an unoccupied campsite on Thursday, agency officials decided to close the spaces rather than take chances.

"People have to take care of their food or we're going to end up with injured people and dead bears," said Snelson.

There is no campground in the area that was closed but designated campsites are scattered along the gravel portion of upper Castle Creek Road. The black bear invaded campsite number six, roughly 2 miles from the end of the pavement, on Wednesday night. Recreation staff supervisor Martha Moran said she didn't talk to the man directly, but was told he had a Great Dane. The bear showed no fear of the dog. The bear gained access to a food container and shredded the man's tent. It was unclear if the container or other food was in the tent. Moran said second-hand information given to her indicated the campsite was messy with food scraps.

The bear had a radio collar, which has been placed on some bruins in the Aspen area for a behavioral study.

The camper reported the incident to the Colorado Division of Wildlife. District Wildlife Manager Kevin Wright requested that the campsites be closed but the Forest Service tried the warning signs first, Moran said.

On Thursday, the bear entered campsite one, about one-third of a mile from the pavement, while Jeff Powell was riding his mountain bike and his wife and two-year-old daughter were hiking at around noon, according to Moran.

Powell told The Associated Press that he locked his family's food in a vehicle along with toothpaste and deodorant as a precaution. Some other forest visitors in a vehicle witnessed the invasion, according to Moran. They reported the bear showed no fear of people.

While the bear didn't recover any food at Powell's tent, it did make off with a pillow.

The collared bear didn't have a history of conflicts with humans, according to wildlife biologist Phil Nyland of the ranger district. Snelson said the bear apparently learned to associate tents with food from previous experience. Forest officials didn't want to reinforce bad habits and they wanted to protect people, so the Castle Creek camping was closed indefinitely.

It's not the first time bear activity has altered camping. Difficult Campground east of Aspen was closed to tents late in the summer four years ago because of the presence of bears. Campers were required to sleep in hard-shelled toppers or camping vehicles. Bear-proof containers and bear boxes, where campers can lock up their food, have been installed at Difficult Campground, Moran said.

Bear-proof trash containers are common at Forest Service campgrounds in the area now. Avalanche Campground near Redstone is the only other one that currently has bear boxes.

The Forest Service urges campers to obey the following precautions to minimize chances of encounters with bears: 1) when not in use, store your food and cooking equipment in an enclosed vehicle; 2) do not take any food into your tent at any time; 3) leave the clothing worn during food preparation in your vehicle and not in your tent; and 4) do not set your tent up in close proximity to your cooking area.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Jul 3, 2010 09:28AM Published Jul 3, 2010 01:15AM Copyright 2010 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.