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Bear visits downtown Gainesville, eludes authorities
Kevin Lowrey, Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist, looks through a kudzu patch off Forrest Avenue for a reported bear in the area Thursday afternoon. - photo by Tom Reed

Janice Ludwig’s back deck played host to an unexpected visitor Thursday morning.

The Ridgeview Drive resident went outside at 8 a.m. to the sound of her two small dogs barking at an intruder. She approached her sliding glass door and caught a glimpse of the bear that roamed through downtown Gainesville Thursday.

“The bear was running frantically from the dogs, so he clambered down the stairs, off the deck and over the back fence and then took off through the woods,” Ludwig said.

She said some of her neighbors had seen the animal earlier that morning.

Lt. Carol Martin of the Gainesville Police Department said the department received a call Thursday morning regarding a sighting near Thompson Bridge Road, behind First Baptist Church.

“The best advice we have is don’t leave food for it, and don’t approach it,” Martin said.

Kevin Lowrey, a Department of Natural Resource wildlife biologist, said he also received a phone message about the bear early in the morning.

Around 1 p.m., Lowrey trudged through thick kudzu near Sylvan Wood Lane behind The Times, hoping to find the bear. He said the bear, a male weighing about 100 pounds, started its journey in Forsyth County and has since traveled to Longwood Park and McEver Road in the Gainesville area.

The bear is not aggressive and does not exhibit any of the typical behaviors that would trigger the need for DNR workers to track and trap the animal, Lowrey said.

“Most of the time, they find their own way,” he said. “We rarely have to move one of these bears.”

However, this particular bear has elicited so many phone calls and complaints that the DNR decided to pursue trapping.

Sonny West, who works on Forrest Avenue, said he saw the bear about 12:30 p.m. from a window in his office building.

“He wasn’t walking, it was a slow gallop,” West said. “I said, ‘That doesn’t look like a dog.’”

West watched police patrol the area for about an hour.

“I assure you I saw a bear,” he said. “It was live, and it was big but not grown.”

Lorrie Griffith, who works on Green Street, saw the bear while waiting to turn from Ridgewood Avenue onto Green Street.

“I had already been alerted to the fact that there was a bear by a police officer,” she said. “And about 30 seconds later, I looked in my rearview mirror and saw it run across. It was not very big was my initial reaction. My initial reaction was that this was a baby bear.”

Lowrey said Gainesville residents shouldn’t be afraid.

“There’s never been a bear-human incident in Georgia,” he said.

If caught, the bear would be tranquilized and then taken to the North Georgia mountains.

As of this afternoon, Lowrey said the bear was either waiting in the kudzu or had moved on.

“There’s really no way to know for sure,” he said.

He said future action would be based on further complaints or sightings.

Lowrey said the bear population has expanded in recent years, and sightings in urban areas have become more frequent, especially over the last decade.

“We definitely have more bears in Georgia,” he said. “In urban areas, we’ve kind of created a pretty good habitat with green spaces.”

For Ludwig, that’s not good news.

“I just feel really saddened that their habitat apparently is being invaded, so now they’re having to go to urban areas,” she said. “But it is a concern, especially for young children.”

Lowrey advised parents to keep their children away from the bear if they see it.

He said people who may see the bear should make a lot of noise and get away from the animal. Do not approach the bear, instead allow it to go naturally on its way and call DNR once you get to a safe location, he said.

Maria Lara, 9, was selling lemonade on Bradford Street while Lowrey and police officials searched for the bear. She knew exactly what she would do if she saw the animal.

“I would run like crazy,” she said. “I would run anywhere where the bear is not.”

Though neither Lara nor her lemonade-selling partners saw the bear, 13-year-old Teresa Arriaga hoped she would. She wanted something thrilling to add to a long summer day.

“We’re actually excited about seeing it,” Arriaga said. “It’d be really interesting because our day has been boring. It would be the most exciting thing to happen all summer.”

Her younger sister, 10-year-old Joseline Arriaga, agreed.

“We haven’t really seen bears live,” she said. “We’ve only seen bears on TV.”

Staff writer Ashley Bates contributed to this report

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