By AMY BETH HANSON and MATTHEW BROWN
HELENA Mont. (AP)– A tiny western Montana town where a grizzly bear pulled a lady from her tent and killed her today invites visitors year-round to the mountain valley neighborhood along the banks of a river made popular by the film “A River Runs Through It.”
They come to Ovando to fish, hike, camp and drift the river in the summer season and to snowmobile, cross nation ski or snow shoe in the winter season.
The warmer months also bring bicyclists passing through the picturesque Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, which this year runs almost 2,500 miles (4,023 kilometers) from northern Montana to southern New Mexico.
A break in the long-anticipated flight on that route is what brought Leah Davis Lokan, 65, of Chico, California, to the town on Monday for an over night stay, her good friends said.
She and her party were camped near the towns post office and museum when a grizzly bear pulled her out of her tent and eliminated her early Tuesday, officials said. It was the second time the bear was at the campground that night, they said.
Wildlife officials invested Thursday searching for and eliminate the approximately 400-pound (181-kilogram) bear, however came up empty for a third straight day.
The sheriff closed the casual camping sites around town a minimum of up until Sunday and the town opened up a fire station and church for bicyclists to sleep inside. The town already had an old jail that had been redesigned with some cots for campers, stated Kathleen Schoendoerfer, who owns the Blackfoot Angler fishing shop with her husband, Travis Thurmond.
Ovando sees about 1,000 bicyclists annually who are traveling the Great Divide route, Schoendoerfer estimated, with varying numbers staying over night.
The route loosely follows the Continental Divide, sometimes zig-zagging over it on gravel roadways, dirt roadways and tracks and some single tracks, said Dillon Key, who operates at Great Divide Cyclery in Helena. There are likewise some highway miles.
The path is “definitely stunning” through Montana, taking riders over mountain passes and through big, open meadows, Key stated.
” A lot of the towns on the route, villages in the middle of the mountains, tend to be truly welcoming to divide riders coming through,” Key stated. “Theres a couple farms and ranches along the way that permit riders to come stay with them. Its type of a communal sensation to it. Everybodys truly inviting.”
Lokan, a signed up nurse who had worked at a health center in Chico, California, would have fit right in, stated Mike Castaldo, president of the Chico Cycling Club.
” She had a truly great spirit. She constantly had a smile on her face. When she saw you, always lit up. Always offered you a huge hug,” stated Castaldo, who knew Lokan for about 15 years. “But I believe many of her identity was, you understand, outside on the bike, taking pleasure in the outdoors was her thing.”
She took part in mtb races and was a roadway bicyclist and skilled outdoorswoman.
” I think she was competitive, however that was secondary to the experience or the journey she was on that specific day,” he stated Thursday.
Lokan had been eagerly anticipating the Montana bike journey for months, said Mary Flowers, another buddy from Chico. Lokan had taken long-distance bike journeys and on this one was accompanied by her sis and a friend, Flowers stated.
” She was talking about her summer plans– this fantastic wild adventure, riding her bike on, I dont understand, a 400-mile trip or something,” Flowers said. “A lady in her 60s, and shes doing this kind of things– she had an enthusiasm for life that was out of the common.”
Another friend kept in mind Lokan as a free spirit with numerous friends.
” She constantly welcomed you with a smile. She was one of those people that was always up for an adventure and always made you to feel like you were the center of her attention at all times,” stated Leesa Stefano, who met Lokan when Stefano transferred to Sandpoint, Idaho, in 2006 and got associated with a bicycling club to which Lokan belonged.
Stefano stated Lokan was the type of person who would discover a way to sign in with everybody at some time to ensure buddies knew they were still part of her life.
” We were all actually delighted for her, because we know what it suggested,” Stefano stated about the bike ride. “We could not wait to hear the stories. Its considered an epic trip.”
Lokan and 2 others were camping when a bear stunned them at 3 a.m. Tuesday before wandering off, Montana wildlife officials stated. The bicyclists got rid of food from their tents, kept it and went back to sleep, authorities stated.
About 4:15 a.m., the constables office received a 911 call after 2 individuals in a camping tent near the victims were awakened by noises of the attack, Powell County Sheriff Gavin Roselles said. They discharged their bear spray, and the bear escaped.
Lokan was “well versed in what she was doing. She knew the dangers,” Castaldo stated, suggesting she may have let her guard down while camping in a town, rather than along the trail.
” The fact that it was right in the area– thats pretty messed up,” Thurmond informed the Missoulian.
People who camp in grizzly bear country– whether deep in the woods or in a developed camping area– are advised to keep food and aromatic products like tooth paste away from their camping sites at all times and to prepare somewhere else.
If a bear comes through a campground, it is necessary to remain on lookout for the animal to return, stated Greg Lemon, spokesperson for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Wildlife officials initially utilized helicopter flights to search for the grizzly. They also established large traps– constructed out of culverts and baited with roadkill– around Ovando. That included traps near a chicken cage that the bear robbed the night Lokan was killed, as well as near the campground.
Detectives gotten DNA left by the bear in the attack and could compare it with any bruin they are able to trap. Bear specialists and video game wardens also were stationed near the traps to shoot the animal if the chance occurs, stated Greg Lemon, representative for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
” Our best chance would be if the bear returns and tries to get another chicken or some more food around town,” Lemon said.
The wardens feel they could quickly determine the bear, which was recorded on a shops surveillance electronic camera in the minutes after its first visit to Lokans camping site, Lemon stated.
” If they saw that bear at the trap and had a clear chance at it, they may choose to do that.”
This story has been updated to fix the surname of one of the owners of the Blackfoot Angler fishing shop. She is Kathleen Schoendoerfer, not Loendoerfer.
Brown reported from Billings.
” A lot of the towns on the path, little towns in the middle of the mountains, tend to be truly welcoming to divide riders coming through,” Key said. Always provided you a big hug,” stated Castaldo, who understood Lokan for about 15 years. “But I think most of her identity was, you understand, outside on the bike, enjoying the outdoors was her thing.”
” We were all really excited for her, since we know what it meant,” Stefano said about the bike ride. That included traps near a chicken coop that the bear raided the night Lokan was killed, as well as near the camping site.