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Bear 128 Grazer and her cubs. Photo by A. Gantt

Bear 128 Grazer and her cubs. Photo by A. Gantt

My Summer At Brooks Camp

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.

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  • OneBirdieMa

    Thanks for all your work — makes us out here on the viewing end endlessly happy! And you tell your stories well! Happy fall and winter to you!

  • LuvBears

    Thanks for giving us an inside view Anne-Marie!

  • Cincygirl

    Really nice story of your time at Brooks Camp! Thanks for sharing with all of us !

  • mosaic_world

    thank you for sharing. I really enjoyed the post

  • MickeyKay

    Thank you, Anne Marie! I enjoyed your story.

  • Lori Ann Christina

    Great recap Anna-Marie!! And thank you for volunteering.

  • GABear

    Great blog! Thanks so much for sharing you experiences!

  • LisaStL

    Thx for posting this Anna-Marie! So interesting to hear the experiences from those of you who stay longer than a few days. So 132 & cubs are known as the bear gang! Wow! This beats most “What I Did For Summer Vacation” stories heh! 😉

  • EjHall

    Thank you for sharing your summer volunteering experience. It must be a great deal of work to get organized to go into such a remote site, but its a wonderful gift that you give your fellow lovers of the National Parks.

  • lesleezee

    Anna-Marie, I enjoyed your blog so much. You described your adventures with a lot of feeling and it’s obvious what an adventure a summer at Brooks can be. Thanks for your great work as a cam operator too!

  • Brenda Sandefur

    Hi Anna-Marie :) loved your blog experiences at Brooks ..Wow :) I just can’t really imagine,what it would truly be like, even tho i followed your words with great interest. A funny part to me was the heading towards the trees ,over stumps etc, and after 1 2 3 4 bears went by you stopped hollering..Hey Bears..I’m Over Here hahaha struck me laughing 😀 .! Wonderful of you to volunteer ..and yet still have a blast there. : )

  • Debbie

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful story. I feel like you have given us all a special gift.

  • JackieCJB

    Thanks so much for posting this. I don’t think I’ll ever get to Katmai, so it’s nice to read about other people’s experiences there. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be so close to such magnificent creatures who also happen to have the capacity to turn you into a meal, especially when you’re all by yourself! I think I would have wet myself!!! So glad you could have such a great opportunity. Savor it, and thanks for sharing!

  • Deborah

    Thanks for sharing your amazing summer adventure Anna-Marie

  • Cathy Ramsden Robinson

    Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  • naturegirl

    Thank you Anna-Marie for sharing you story with us. It sounds like you had a wonderful time.

  • CamOp_Fawn

    Great Job … Great Blog !!! What a thrill and surreal experience it is to visit and experience Brooks Camp, Katmai National Park and the Bears. Thanks AM :-)

  • Juergen

    TY so much Anna-Marie♥ for sharing your adventures with us….iam soooooo jealous!!! LOL and thanks again for your great pics you made
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/105187918@N03/

  • Ivymoss

    Thank you for sharing your pictures and stories with us. I just can’t imagine actually being at Brooks Camp and seeing all our bears in person that we watch everyday on the cams. WTG! You are a very strong, dedicated soul, CamOp_Scout ♥

  • Captivated Cat

    This was great! Thank you so much for being willing to share your experience with all of us. What a special time!

  • betterthanwatchingwimbledon

    What an outstanding experience. Hope you get to enjoy many more returns.

  • Lovethebears

    Oh my goodness, your summer at Katmai sounds amazing! I am very envious. Can’t think of anything I would rather do than walk those trails and see these bears. Thank you for sharing!

  • Pinebutte

    Wow, you made my heart beat faster reading about 132 & cubs! Thanks for sharing your Brooks adventure with us, ‘sea’ ya soon. Cheers, Pine

    • Pinebutte

      Aka Pine Butte……D took it upon itself to create a second account for me that I cannot delete…..go figure

  • abcayemich

    Wow,wow,wow…..Thank you so much for sharing this with us. Sounds like a dream-come-true to me. The one sentence that really made me happy and proud was when you said..”..in order to keep bears safe from humans” Outstanding. Thanks again!

  • MollyGee-TX

    Awesome blog! Your time there sounds amazing and what a beautiful picture of Grazer and cubs. Thanks!

  • Erie (Ontario)

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us AM :) Saw 132 and her big babies few times at falls, Adorable.

  • BarbaraJeanSmith

    So nice for you to share you experience with us! I’ll probably never have the opportunity to go to Brooks Falls, but your blog makes it real for me. Thank you so much! (babajji)

  • jatuco

    Thank you!

  • AnnieW

    Just wonderful Anna Marie, I loved reading every single word! How very lucky we are to live in a world where we can experience such amazing things and be part of something so so magical! I hope to visit one day! Thank you so much for sharing!

  • Adanac

    So good! Thank you for sharing your experiences and you stunning pictures with us!

  • Giz

    The best! Thank you Scout for the up-close and personal of your work at Brooks. I admire your dedication and spirit of adventure. We are so fortunate to have people like you who volunteer time operating the cameras AND then YOU even truck up to Alaska to work as well. That’s a labor of love. Respect ♥
    P.S. The photo of the 128 family is wicked great!

  • Flyaway girl

    What a wonderful opportunity Anne Marie! Thank you for sharing your reflections with us. I want to volunteer!

  • BanditBasheert

    Amazing AM / thanks for this. I’m so glad you had this experience again – and hope next year is as wonderful as this was.

    And by the way … a delightful way to get out of Arizona in July!!!

    • Anna-Marie_AZ

      You would know, right? lol

  • Amanda

    Wow Anna Marie! who would have thought you would be doing such amazing things 20 years ago! I hope Tom is as adventurous as you!

    • Anna-Marie_AZ

      Hi Amanda! It makes me happy knowing that you and your family are sharing in my adventures.

  • MaineBear

    Thank you Anna Marie for being our eyes and ears on the ground! Your love of Brooks Falls and your willingness to share your experiences with us is greatly appreciated. Thank you!

  • BearBell

    Just read your post! I am so in awe of you! How exciting to have two adventurous summers in Brooks Camp! Your writing puts the reader almost in your shoes..I was holding my breath as I read of 132 and her gang pass you on the trail! I am sure the rangers and staff loved having you there..will you be going again next year? And, by the way..welcome back!!

  • JeanneB

    Thank you so much for giving us an inside view of your summer. It was a wonderful read!

  • posting real

    this was great

  • kiwipip

    Wow, what an experience, thank you for sharing……

  • Luv2fishdarlene

    Love your story Ty Anna !!!!!

  • AK Guide

    Thanks for the story/experience. Two seasons shows commitment, my compliments. I have a question if thats ok. I would like to know what you experienced and think about the impact of bush planes at Brooks. I shutter to think of 300 day use visitors along with the amount of aircraft needed for that. Everything I see suggests the local bears have become habituated to bush aircraft. Thanks for your service and story, again, my compliments.

  • Lisa Harris

    I hope to volunteer at Brooks someday after I retire. I can’t imagine anything more wonderful! Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  • texanrhonda

    Thank you so much for sharing.

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