Woman mauled near Cooper Landing identified

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to correct a spelling error. The woman mauled by a brown bear near Skilak Lake is named Gabrielle Markel. Her name was mistakenly reported as Gabbriele.

 

The woman mauled by a brown bear on Tuesday has been identified as Gabrielle Markel, 20, of Girdwood.

Markel, an employee of Alaska Wildland Adventures Lodge, and a coworker from were running on Cottonwood Creek Trail within a mile of the lodge when the bear came onto the trail and attacked her, according to an Alaska State Troopers dispatch. The coworker went back to the lodge for help, but when she and other employees returned to the trail with bear spray, the bear was gone and Markel was “walking toward them,” the dispatch reads.

Central Emergency Services Captain Terry Bookey said the woman was transported by boat across Skilak Lake by Alaska Wildland Adventure employees to the Upper Skilak Loop Boat Landing.

“We got a call at 4:50 p.m. for a 20-year-old … victim of a brown bear mauling,” Bookey said. “As we went out the door … we requested that LifeMed (helicopter) launch to meet us on the scene if necessary.”

Bookey said CES responders arrived on scene at 5:19 p.m., and later transferred the woman to LifeMed. She was airlifted from the lake and is being treated for non-life threatening injuries in Anchorage.

“She had significant head trauma, and she also had back and arm trauma,” Bookey said.

Alaska Wildland Adventures Operations Manager Tom Timmel said Markel is doing well.

“She’s getting excellent care, and she’s in good spirits,” he said.

Timmel said he is trying to get in touch with both troopers and the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge to coordinate the handling of the incident and how to monitor Cottonwood Creek Trail.

So far, the attack appears to have been an act of defense on the bear’s part, said Deputy Refuge Manager Steve Miller.

“Based on the injuries received and everything, it seemed to be a more defensive incident where the bear felt threatened,” Miller said.

The bear likely backed off when Markel was on the ground and the apparent threat was removed, Miller said.

Cottonwood Creek Trail was closed Wednesday morning as a result of the attack, and Miller said refuge law enforcement officers and other staff members spent Wednesday investigating the area. Signs have been posted notifying the public of the temporary closure, Miller said.

Refuge staff is checking to make sure there are no lingering hazards or conditions that could entice a bear to stick around, such as an animal carcass, Miller said.

“We know the trail parallels an anadromous stream, so there are salmon in the stream,” Miller said. “If we determine that there weren’t any other contributing factors to this, we will go ahead and open the trail back up.”

Even when the trail reopens, Miller said signs will be posted with the date and circumstances of the attack so that potential trail-goers can make an educated decision about whether to proceed.

Bear attacks are not common on the refuge, Miller said. Besides a run-in between a firefighter and a brown bear in the Chugach area earlier this summer, Miller said the last attack he could recall was in 2003 near Russian River.

“It’s not very common,” he said. “Considering we have a lot of salmon, a lot of people trying to catch salmon … it’s surprising sometimes that there aren’t more of these.”

Miller said it’s important for those who utilize refuge lands to be aware that they are not alone, and that making plenty of noise while moving through woods and along trails will be helpful.

“It’s a mixture that can be volatile, but we just ask people to be vigilant,” Miller said.

 

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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