By volunteer camera operator Anna-Marie Gantt
As I landed on the water of Naknek Lake in the Katmai NPP Beaver floatplane, I thought to myself, “I can’t believe I’m spending another summer at Brooks Camp!” After all the preparation of shipping food and packing luggage to last me five weeks, I was finally here with a bear walking toward the plane to greet me. I learned that I would be staying in the same cabin as the summer before with the same co-volunteer. I couldn’t be happier!
As a volunteer, I worked 40 hours per week, both at the Visitor’s Center and on the Falls and Riffles Platforms. When visitors arrive at the center, they go through bear school where they teach you important rules adopted by the Park in order to keep bears safe from humans. Don’t carry or eat food unless you’re in a building or the picnic area, keep your belongings within arms’ reach so that they don’t become a bear play toy, stay fifty yards away from bears, and no running from a bear if you encounter one on the trails around Brooks Camp.
My duties included running the gift shop and talking to visitors as they waited for bear school, answering many questions about the Park and logistics of Camp, and even about the bears. Some days I was able to rove around for a few hours, helping people get out to the Falls Trail and controlling the traffic around sleeping bears. One morning I ran into 409 Beadnose and her spring cubs on the Valley Road as she grazed on grass. She stuck her head out from the trees and huffed at me. Needless to say, I let her know that I was giving her space. I waited a half an hour until a ranger came by and said she saw her moving through the marsh with her cubs. Whew!
By the time I made it up to the lower platform to cross the bridge, to my surprise the bridge was closed and I was the only one on the platform. Everyone else was on the other side of the bridge. Bear Jam! 273 and her yearling (Velcro) were asleep on the Closed Trail. I watched bear management try to wake her up by splashing the surface of the water off the side of the bridge with a stick. She lifted her head and seemed interested for about 30 seconds and then put her head down. Eventually, sow and cub moved away from the bridge in their own time and the bridge opened. A crowd of visitors and rangers crossed over. Nobody is surprised when you are late to work due to a bridge closure.
Working on the Falls and Riffles platforms was the highlight of my week! I enjoyed being near the river and seeing bears come and go. Though the riffles is about 100 yards downriver from the Falls, we could see the bears that wouldn’t go near the Falls due to the dominant bears. One of my favorite bears to see there was 128 Grazer and her three spring cubs, who would go up a tree while she fished. Some visitors gave up their turn at the Falls platform just to stay on the Riffles platform and watch Grazer and family. Several visitors said I had the perfect job working on the platforms. I totally agree with them.
Every day I walked between seven and twelve miles. At the beginning of my time at Brooks, I was a little spooked about walking on the Valley Road and Falls Trail alone. It was usually where I would run into bears. One day as I was heading down the road to work, I saw a man on the road in front of me looking around the curve. He started waving at me toward the trees. It was a bear! Without saying a word, he disappeared into the trees. At that point I decided to wait on the road until I could see a bear. It came around the curve and I quickly headed into the trees and over dead logs. I stood in the foliage, yelling, “Hey Bear, I’m over here, bear!” I saw the head of the bear go by on the road. Then I saw another one, and another and another. Four bears walked by. At that point, I stopped yelling. The last bear looked over toward the trees where I was standing. It was bear 132 and her giant cubs! She was keeping her cubs for an extra year. They were as large as she was! People were calling them the bear gang. I waited about five minutes and went back onto the road. No sign of them, but I could hear someone yelling up the road. I wasn’t the only one having an encounter with the bear gang.
Though bears were the main focus on being at Brooks Camp, I had a wonderful time getting to know the new rangers, volunteers, guides, pilots and lodge employees. Our community was like a large family. The time went by so quickly and it was really sad to say goodbye to everyone. I know how amazingly lucky I am to have had the opportunity to spend two summers at Brooks Camp.