Children waiting for the school bus in upper Miller Creek Wednesday morning got a scare from a mountain lion.
About a dozen children and their bus driver spotted the lion about 200 feet from the Lost Mine Loop bus stop. The bus driver got everyone on board quickly and the lion did not come any closer. Lost Mine Loop is on the south side of Mount Dean Stone off of Upper Miller Creek Road.
"There's always lions in that country, although people don't often see them," said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks wildlife manager Mike Thompson. "For any individual, it's one of those events you never forget."
Beach Transportation general manager Bob Mitchell said the bus driver spotted the lion as he was preparing to pick up four children at one of three stops in the area.
"The kids must have seen it a second or two before him," MItchell said. "They all got on simultaneously."
The bus driver radioed the sighting to Mitchell, who called Missoula police. He talked with FWP wardens and passed a list of all area bus riders to the schools for parent notification.
Principals at Chief Charlo Elementary and Meadow Hill Middle schools contacted all the families in the area. Chief Charlo Principal David Rott said parents would be escorting their kids in the mornings to the bus stop. Staff at both schools could not recall another lion sighting in the past several years.
Thompson said the event was logged, but there was no indication of a more serious problem. If lions continue to be seen in the area, game wardens would check to see if something is habituating them to human food or other attractants. Thompson said the chance for future lion sightings was likely to fade next week, after daylight-saving time ends and mornings have more sunshine.
Mitchell said he hoped parents would get the message to be with their kids in the mornings.
"It is just imperative that parents are at bus stops," he said. "Students are much safer when there's a parent present at the bus stop, for variety of issues - fights, bullying, trespassing, sexual predators. In this case, we had an actual predator this morning."
Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at email@example.com.