huckleberry trail

Huckleberry shrubs turn bright red in fall, and new photo scanning technology allows researchers to spot them from space. That may allow Glacier National Park officials to better manage trails in places where grizzly bears come to feed on the calorie-rich berries.

Trails leading to the Granite Chalet reopened Tuesday morning after a 24-hour closure due to grizzly bear encounters.

Glacier National Park officials said no bear sightings were made following a day of patrol Monday, and a night of observations, and at 9:30 a.m. announced the Highline, Loop, and the closed portion of the Swiftcurrent Pass trail all are open to hikers. 

However, the Granite Park backcountry campground was to remain closed at least through Wednesday night after grizzly encounters in the area.

The trails are posted as "bear frequenting," meaning visitors should excercise "heightened situational awareness and watch for signs of bears," according to a news release Tuesday morning. Hikers are urged to have bear spray easily accessible on a hip or chest harness, and be comfortable using it.

Park officials closed trails including the Highline, Loop and Swiftcurrent from Swiftcurrent Pass to the chalet Sunday night due to what was termed “unusual grizzly bear activity” in the area. The closures effectively cut off access to the Granite Park Chalet while park staff evaluated the grizzly activity.

People who were in the Granite Park region were allowed to hike out via the Loop or Swiftcurrent Pass trails, but not the Highline Trail.

On Sunday, park staff received several first-hand reports from visitors in three separate reports of encounters with one or more bears along the trail in the general area of the Granite Park backcountry campground and chalet. A news release reported the bears were exhibiting behavior “consistent with being disturbed and frustrated by human presence.”

The bears were “huffing and drooling, shaking heads from side to side, and backing people off trail,” Lauren Alley, a park spokesperson, explained in an email. “Typically you would expect to have a bear move away from humans if not agitated … unless in defense of self, food source, or cubs, for example.”

Park rangers and a wildlife biologist spent Monday patrolling the trails and developed areas around Granite Park Chalet and backcountry campground, according to a news release late Monday.

No bears were seen, but signs indicating they were foraging were found in multiple locations, with scat piles, disturbed hillsides and overturned rocks. What they didn’t find was any sign of a carcass or other food source the bears were protecting.

A park biologist stayed at the chalet overnight to continue observations, but didn't see any bears.

Beginning in mid-August, bears feel the need to eat continuously, in a condition known as hyperphagia, as they prepare to hibernate. Dillon Tabish, a spokesperson for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks in northwestern Montana, noted that it’s “a bumper year” for the berry crop.

“That will be good for the bears,” Tabish said.

Earlier this month, park officials noted they were reviewing training protocols for hazing after a ranger inadvertently pierced a black bear's abdomen, and rangers subsequently euthanized it.

“We appreciate the public’s patience while we evaluate this situation,” Glacier National Park Superintendent Jeff Mow said in the news release. “The park has a proactive bear management program, and we take reports of aggressive bear behavior very seriously.”

People with reservations for the historic Granite Park Chalet weren't able to access the structure Monday night, but were being allowed in on Tuesday. With the Sperry Chalet undergoing repairs after being damaged in the 2017 Sprague fire, the already popular Granite Park Chalet is experiencing additional interest this year.

People can monitor whether the trails are open or closed by visiting the park’s Trail Status webpage.

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