By Howard Meyerson
A few years ago, a friend and I were walking back to a campground, backtracking on a remote Upper Peninsula trail. Overcast skies had threatened rain. We’d spent a moody, chilly day tramping through deep forest.
Then, we stumbled on something that gave us a start. A sign in the middle of the trail proclaimed: You are in bear country.
The scat was fresh and full of berry seeds. It had come from a big bruin. We made nervous jokes and studied the forest around us.
Both of us had bear encounters before, none of which proved to be a problem. We continued down the trail a bit more alert to our surroundings, talked a little bit louder and got back to the campground without incident. That’s usually what happens when people find signs of bears in the woods.
“It happens every year: People see signs or footprints, but it’s not a negative experience,” said Anna Sylvester, the Michigan DNR’s northern Michigan field operations section chief for Parks and Recreation division. “We even have some in busy state parks, like South Higgins Lake or Mitchell State Park, where they may run through the campground. People see more of them as they go further north.”
Michigan’s summer camping season is just unfolding. If you plan to camp, hike and paddle in the northern part of the state, be aware it might be bear country, and bear country manners are necessary.
That means taking precautions to put food and coolers away at night, hanging food when in the bush, and otherwise keeping a clean camp, which also means keeping food and snacks out of the tent.
“Every year, we hear about someone who had a bear come into their campsite or they see one on a trail,” noted Randy Charles, the operations officer for the Ottawa National Forest in the western Upper Peninsula. “But, we haven’t had a bad encounter.
“The chances of seeing bears in the Ottawa are greater than anywhere else in the U.P. We also have the highest concentration of wolves in the state of Michigan, and there is a good chance of seeing a wolf. The (wolf) packs are spread out in the forest.”
Camping lore is rife with stories about bears getting into coolers, backpacks and tents, almost always a habituated bear that learned to associate campers with an easy meal.
“It’s important for people to recognize that there are bears up here,” said Charlie Marsh, ranger for the Munising district of the Hiawatha National Forest in the eastern and central U.P.
“A number of people come up here from the big cities. We want them to come up, but we don’t want them to antagonize bears or walk up to them and feed them.
“If they see one on the trail, it’s important to keep a distance, give it plenty of room like you would a snake.”
Appears on MLive Outdoors.