Bears rampage through exclusive fishing resort

Posted: Wednesday, April 30, 2003

ANCHORAGE - At least five marauding brown bears rampaged through the Katmai Lodge, a luxury fishing resort on the Alagnak River, over the winter, demolishing freezers and food stores after busting through a total of 53 doors in search of food.

Lodge employees last week were buying up replacement doors as fast as they could find them in Alaska's largest city.

"We bought every one Lowe's had, and every one at Home Depot," said lodge owner Tony Sarp. "We had to go clear to Willow to a door factory for the rest of them."

Sarp blames the rampage on Alaska's unusual weather. The bears probably were confused by temperatures that allowed flowers to bloom well after snow was supposed to be on the ground.

"There was no winter," Sarp said. "They didn't know it was November and December. They thought it was still September, I'm sure."

The lodge, in southwest Alaska near Bristol Bay, can accommodate 60 guests, who pay $5,000 per week to catch salmon, grayling and rainbow trout. It has 22 buildings spread along a bluff overlooking the river. Guests have cabins with private bathrooms, a luxury considering that the lodge is 300 miles off the road system. Assisting customers are 60 lodge employees - managers, cooks, housekeepers, store operators, and, mostly, fishing guides.

The dining room is at one end of the camp. The bears' first target was a pantry filled with stores of flour, salt, sugar, spices, cake mix and canned goods, the surplus from last season. The bears continued their binge in the kitchen, even though it had no food.

"They just literally ate the floor," Sarp said. "It must have had some grease on it, I guess."

The bears had success pushing in one door, Sarp figures, so they tried more. They moved from building to building, entering 18 in all.

They destroyed incinerators, deck railings, four windows and a popcorn machine. They tore apart four freezers. As for the lodge's smokehouse: "It's gone," Sarp said.

"Most of these buildings have a steel door on them," he said. "They went right through them."

He estimated damage at $50,000.

A winter caretaker's cabin is at the other end of the line of buildings, perhaps 300 yards from the dining building. The caretaker identified the perpetrators: a sow with two older cubs, probably 2 1/2 years old, and a pair of boars.

The bears did their breaking and entering at night, and the caretaker wanted nothing to do with encountering multiple bears alone in the dark.

The lodge opens June 8. That should be plenty of time to repair the damage, Sarp said. The first load of material was to be flown in Friday and workmen were to arrive this week.

Sarp said next winter, the lodge will keep an electric fence powered around the dining room and incinerators for six weeks after buildings are boarded up.

Other than that, Sarp's planning no other preventive measures.

"Once in 25 years is not too bad," he said.

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