Cruising For Yuletide Cakes

Skagway kids step lightly to the tune of the “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron Christmas Song” during the cakewalk at the Yuletide Craft Fair and Carnival at the school on Dec. 1. The walk raised money for this year’s “Have a Heart” campaign. Two more weeks of Yuletide events are on tap, including tonight’s tree lighting and open houses, Saturday’s Santa Train, and next weekend’s Yuletide Ball. See complete schedule at and watch for more photos in our holiday issue.

Photo by Jeff Brady

Brown bear shot in hillside neighborhood

During the last few weeks, a large brown bear had more than a few Skagwegians looking over their shoulders as it was frequently spotted alongside residences in the valley and the western hillside.
For now it appears the threat is gone, as a brown bear was shot and killed outside a hillside home in the early morning hours of Dec. 1 by a licensed Skagway hunter. Still, some in the community are concerned that possibly the wrong bear was dispatched, meaning danger might still be lurking just around the corner.
The first official report of a large brown bear was registered at the Skagway Police Department on Nov. 18, spotted at 18th Ave. and Alaska St. Reports became more frequent after Thanksgiving Day, when a large brown bear was seen near Ken Mayo’s residence at 19th and Alaska.
Mayo wrote a letter to the Municipality of Skagway which stated the bear ran by their house while he and his wife were unloading their car. The letter said the bear was “no less than 100 feet by our front door and no less than 50 feet from my wife...”
Mayo said Police Chief Ray Leggett and Officer Rick Ackerman pursued the bear on foot with flashlights and cracker rounds, but asked the municipality to take more drastic measures with the animal, as public safety was at risk.
Mayo said reports of the bear were forcing many families, whose kids normally walk to school and other destinations, to shuttle their kids back and forth in their vehicles, fearing the children were in danger of being mauled.
“No bear is worth any one person living in this community,” said Mayo.
Mayo made a report to the police on Nov. 23 of a bear getting into two massive sling bags of garbage that had been left on a lot across the street from his residence at 19th and Alaska. The lot is used for storage by the dog camp that operates up on the glacier, and the sling bags had been there since the end of summer, he said.
Another report of the bear was registered the day before in the same area.
Problem black bears were frequently seen over the summer months, prompting a new ordinance, proposed by the police, that passed the Skagway Borough Assembly. The ordinance implemented tougher laws concerning proper disposal of garbage and was accompanied by an education campaign designed to make people more aware of how their habits could be detrimental to bears.
Leggett said he worked on the ordinance in cooperation with Ryan Scott, Assistant Area Wildlife Biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Juneau. Concerning the ordinance, Scott said via telephone from his office, “I think it’s great. I applaud Chief Leggett and the people who supported it.”
By the end of the summer season, it appeared the new ordinance was working and bear encounters began to dwindle. However, as reports of a potentially dangerous large brown bear roaming through town in the late fall darkness began to circulate, people began voicing their concerns to the police and local government officials.
The issue was addressed at the Nov. 27 assembly meeting, where Leggett explained he was already working in tandem with F&G on the proper way to dispose of the bear if the situation persisted.
“We’re trying to find this guy. He’s quick,” said Leggett.
Leggett said the overwhelming majority of citizens were more concerned for human safety than protecting the bear, but urged Skagwegians to let the department or a professional (hunter) handle the situation. He said a person acting as a vigilante could do more harm than good if the bear were injured and not killed, or an innocent bystander was accidentally shot.
On Nov. 25, a large brown bear first made its appearance on Bruce Schindler’s hillside property. The animal got into some garbage which was left outside a canvas yurt, where another person was staying at the time. The yurt is a rental on his land, above his home. The bear also tried to break through the yurt, damaging it in the process, Schindler said.
The garbage was removed but the bear returned on subsequent nights, he said, and on the 28th it ransacked some boxes underneath his workshop. On the 29th the bear did more damage to the yurt trying to get inside, then dragged a freezer out from beneath Schindler’s workshop and tore it apart to get to the food within.
Schindler said he removed the majority of the food from the freezer the following morning, but the bear came back yet again on the morning of the 30th.
In the early morning hours of Dec. 1, the bear made another appearance. It would be his last.
Local hunter Jeff Thole was waiting with Schindler on his property with a 30/06 rifle and a 12-gauge shotgun at the ready. A pile of cans were placed on top of Schindler’s freezer to act as an alarm when, and if, the bear returned. At 2:30 a.m. the alarm went off. Thole realized he could not use the rifle as it would be too dark, so he took the shotgun and snuck up onto Schindler’s deck.
When the bear was in a a safe position for shooting, Thole delivered five shotgun blasts from a distance of 15 feet.
“He died quickly,” said Thole, a licensed hunter who possessed a brown bear stamp which allowed him to harvest one bear every four years.
Thole quickly cleaned the animal’s carcass, and said both he and Schindler had sought out advice from the police on how to deal with the bear in a responsible way, and acted accordingly. The skull of the bear measured 14.5 x 6.5 inches, and Thole said he estimated its weight at approximately 500 pounds.
Schindler said via telephone after the incident, “This wasn’t fun. I didn’t like it at all, but there was not much of a choice. It’s not something to celebrate. There’s no honor in this.”
Schindler said he plans on taking more preventive measures in the future to avoid a similar circumstance, but has been taken aback by some negative reactions by people around town who alleged the bear was baited, or may not have been the “right bear.”
Thole said he too thought there was another, larger brown bear in town, but evidence seems to support the contrary. Measurements of the distance between the eye teeth of a bear were taken after it bit through a license plate on the Henricksen property, also on the hillside. Those measurements were identical to those of the downed grizzly.
Scott said while there was no way to be 100 percent sure, “I would suggest it was one bear wandering around town... Likely, it was the same bear that was shot.”
Leggett said, “It’s the same bear. There’s no doubt in my mind.”
Also, according to the police department, no large brown bears have been reported since the Dec. 1 shooting.
Leggett said while the police were aware of hunters looking out for the bear, they did not “commission anyone to be a hit-man.”
He added the bear had become a significant problem that needed to be addressed for the safety of everyone, and he was sure none of the hunters he was in contact with were guilty of baiting bears.
Scott said preventative measures were the key to avoiding problems with bears, and pointed out freezers kept outdoors should be chained shut and also chained to a solid structure to prevent bears from displaying their interest. He said bears have no problem smelling the contents hidden within a freezer.
“Having a freezer outside is asking for trouble,” Scott said. “I haven’t seen a freezer big enough to stop a bear.”
Leggett said everyone should heighten their sense of response and call the police at the first sight of a bear, so preventative measures can be taken immediately to protect the animal before it becomes a problem.
“We live here and they’re around,” he said.

Food Bank needs monetary donations

The Skagway Food Bank is seeking monetary donations so it may continue to serve those in need during this holiday season and into the new year.
The Food Bank was started by Skagway churches several years ago in response to a need in the community. It started as a function around the holidays, but has expanded in recent years to help people at any time of year.
Su Rappleye, one of the volunteer coordinators for the churches, said the Food Bank distributed about $1,700 over the past year, but it is running low on funds.
“We are asking for dollars,” she said.
The school has been great about accepting dry food donations, she noted, but the Food Bank likes to work with the grocery store on buying food for people.
“We have a possibility of 30 boxes of food going out for the holidays,” Rappleye said.
With those boxes, they also like to included a gift certificate to the grocery store so recipients can buy what they need, she added.
To make a donation, send a check to the Skagway Food Bank, P.O. Box 200, Skagway, AK 99840. – JEFF BRADY

BOROUGH: Capital projects prioritized

Four separate resolutions were passed at the Nov. 27 Skagway Borough Assembly meeting prioritizing certain capital projects based on potential funding from various sources.
According to the staff report, funding could come from one of four sources: traditional legislative capital grants, funds from the cruise passenger excise tax, federal funds, and the harbor matching grant program.
Resolution No. 07-24R designates the Dahl Memorial Clinic as a priority for funding from the excise tax. Resolution No. 07-25R designates the booster station and well for the north end of town as a priority for funding through the State Capital Program Budget. Resolution No. 07-26R designates the small boat harbor renovation and wave barrier as a priority for funding through the state’s harbor grant program. Finally, Resolution No. 07-27R designates Seawalk phases III and IV as a priority for funding through the Federal Transit Administration.
Other capital projects deemed important to the municipality were ranked in order of priority by the borough assembly as follows: shooting range ($400,000), pedestrian bridge over West Creek ($150,000), GIS Data Entry ($75,000), water tank foundation and well ($250,000), DKT culvert and access road ($350,000), revised flood zone mapping ($15,000), and Skagway River subdivision ($16,000).
The final package will be given to legislators and the municipality’s lobbyist for consideration. – AC

CRAFTY CHATTER – Shawn Landers and Jennifer Castle share a laugh as visiting Japanese teacher Hideki Fujisawa checks out some of Tom Soucek’s photos and Wanda Warner shows off her knitting. at last weekend’s Yuletide Craft Fair and Carnival. Jeff Brady

SCHOOL: Board goals finalized

The Skagway School Board on Dec. 4 updated its goals for the 2007-08 school year, taking out some old and adding some new.
Under Goal 1- Encourage academic excellence for staff and students – it listed:
• College readiness and study skills, advanced placement and honors (the AP and honors language is new)/
• Continuation of the foreign language program.
The board removed “pursuing avenues for vocational education” as it does not have the funding. It also was decided to leave out any reference to the music program, since that is something that will remain as long as there is funding for it. Music was roundly supported during the recent community forum.
Under Goal 2 – Ensure the continued improvement of the school environment – it continued to list:
• Student pride in school and community.
However the board removed “maintenance of building,” as it had addressed the major maintenance needs in the past few years. It will continue to work with the municipality on getting the sprinkler upgrade project out to bid soon so it can be completed over the summer. Board members said the school can be thankful it does not have the vandalism problems of other districts.
Under Goal 3 – Continue to improve school/community communications – it listed:
• Develop school community service (kept from last year, although board presently undecided whether to make it required or an elective – input from the community forum was split).
• Open up channels through the community and media
• Develop Website.
The latter two were suggested to better promote what the school has to offer.
Finally Goal 4 was kept intact: Examine ways to increase enrollment. After hearing about other schools’ problems with vandalism from new students, some members joked, “but no flatlanders.”– JB


ON THE GO – Skagway junior high guard Rori Leaverton takes the ‘rock’ during action in Haines recently. Next up for the J-high kids is the Boyd Worley Tourney here on Dec. 14-15. Photo by Steve Vick

• SCHOOL ACTIVITIES: Panther spikers take second in region; DDF team places in Ketchikan

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