In less than a week we’ll be getting on a tiny plane, to fly across the inlet and go camping…with HUNDREDS OF BEARS. Yes, you read that right, camping…with BEARS. Let me explain.
You see, there’s this place across the inlet, that’s only accessible by plane, called the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary and Refuge. The sanctuary is home to (get ready for this one) the world’s largest population of wild brown bears. Every year there’s a lottery that you can enter for viewing permits. If you win the permit, you get to camp in the sanctuary and take daily, guided bear viewing trips for a total of 4 days. Some people put in for the lottery for years and years and have never been drawn. This was the very first year we put in for it and we WON!!
We’ll be spending 5 days and 4 nights across the inlet, taking daily hikes out to view the bears, just doin’ their thang. It’s going to be an experience of a lifetime, let alone an amazing photo opportunity. I’m excited, nervous, anxious, and giddy all wrapped into one.
Right after we moved here, some friends we met had just gotten back from a trip to McNeil River and the slideshow they played for us was incredible, to say the least. I couldn’t believe how close they got to the bears and how non-chalantly the bears just went about their own business, right in front of them. They told us that all of the bears are so comfortable with human presence and there’s such an abundant supply of food there, that the bears really don’t mind us being around at all. As soon as I saw their slideshow, I turned to J and said, “We SOOOO have to do that!!” (My mother-in-law thinks I may quite possibly be the only girl who gets excited about the idea of camping with bears.)
Now, I know some of you
scaredy cats are wondering, what if a bear attacks you?!? You’d have to be insane to be that close to bears in the wild!! But here’s a quote I took directly off of the Alaska Fish and Game website:
“The access permit program was developed after many years of excessive and uncontrolled public use of the area that often put people and bears in danger. The goal of the access permit program is to provide the public with an opportunity to view and photograph bears while minimizing their impacts to bears and wildlife habitats. The program limits the number of people who may be present at McNeil River Falls (or the other viewing locations) to no more than 10 individuals between June 7 and August 25. No one has ever been injured by a bear at McNeil River and since the permit program was initiated, no bears have been killed by visitors who felt threatened. ”
Okay, so the underlining and bolding were added by me, but still, this gives you an idea of why they have a program like this and how safe it is for both humans and bears. I’ve been emailing back and forth with the rest of our group members and a few of them have actually been to McNeil River before, so I’ve been picking their brains a lot. They keep saying what a blast it is and to be ready for an out of this world experience. I can’t wait!!
Oh, and to those of you thinking, “But you’re pregnant, are you crazy?!” What a better time to do it than before we have kids. If we hadn’t won this year, it might’ve been years before we even put in for the lottery again. With arranging for someone to take care of our kids for the week and not having any family members that live in the same state as us, it’d be pretty hard.
All I can say is, you guys better be ready for a giant post overloaded with bear photos when I get back because you know it’s coming.