Cottonwood Creek Trail reopens following bear attack

Cottonwood Creek Trail, following a tributary of Skilak Lake, has reopened in the wake of a bear attack and investigation by the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge staff.

Matt Conner, chief of visitor services for the Refuge, said the trail opened around 4:15 p.m. Thursday following a secondary investigation by a team of Refuge staff he put together. He and other Refuge personnel determined there were no ongoing contributing factors to Tuesday’s bear attack that would necessitate keeping people out of the area.

“…Looking around, we did not find any signs that there was perhaps a carcass,” Conner said. “Most likely that was a responsive attack basically due to a surprise encounter.”

Conner said Cottonwood Creek makes enough noise that even if 20-year-old Gabbriele Markel, the mauling victim, and her coworker had made a lot of noise while running down the trail on the day of the attack, the bear might not have heard it. Investigators found no evidence of a lingering bear in the area since the trail closed Wednesday morning, Conner said.

“At this point we think it was most likely a bear that was moving through the area,” he said.

The Refuge has posted signs along the trail with details of the attack that sent Markel to an Anchorage hospital with wounds to her head, back and arms, so that future trail-goers are aware of the incident. Conner said mass communication whenever a bear attack occurs is one of the Refuge’s main goals.

“We welcome the calls,” he said. “We want folks to be bear-aware. Walk slowly, look around… carry bear spray, know how to use it… and always be aware of your surroundings.”

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