HELENA Mont. (AP) — Wildlife officials say they’ve shot and killed the Montana grizzly bear that pulled a California woman from her tent, killing her.
Leah Davis Lokan of Chico, California, was an experienced outdoorswoman and cyclist who was on a mountain biking trip. She and her party were camped by Ovando‘s post office early Tuesday when she was attacked.
The tiny western Montana town welcomes visitors year-round to the mountain valley community along the banks of a river made famous by the movie “A River Runs Through It.”
They come to Ovando to fish, hike, camp and float the river in the summer and to snowmobile, cross country ski or snowshoe in the winter.
The warmer months also bring bicyclists traversing the scenic Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, which this year runs nearly 2,500 miles from northern Montana to southern New Mexico.
She and her party were camped near the town’s post office and museum when a grizzly bear pulled her out of her tent and killed her early Tuesday, officials said. It was the second time the bear was at the campsite that night, they said.
The sheriff closed the informal campsites around town at least until Sunday and the town opened up a fire station and church for cyclists to sleep inside. The town already had an old jail that had been remodeled with some cots for campers, said Kathleen Schoendoerfer, who owns the Blackfoot Angler fishing shop with her husband, Travis Thurmond.
Ovando sees about 1,000 cyclists per year who are traveling the Great Divide route, Schoendoerfer estimated, with varying numbers staying overnight.
The route loosely follows the Continental Divide, at times zig-zagging over it on gravel roads, dirt roads and trails and some single tracks, said Dillon Key, who works at Great Divide Cyclery in Helena. There are also some highway miles.
The route is “absolutely gorgeous” through Montana, taking riders over mountain passes and through big, open meadows, Key said.
“A lot of the towns on the route, small towns in the middle of the mountains, tend to be really welcoming to divide riders coming through,” Key said. “There’s a couple farms and ranches along the way that allow riders to come stay with them. It’s kind of a communal feeling to it. Everyone’s really welcoming.”
“She had a really good spirit. She always had a smile on her face. Always lit up when she saw you. Always gave you a big hug,” said Castaldo, who knew Lokan for about 15 years. “But I think most of her identity was, you know, outside on the bike, enjoying the outdoors was her thing.”
She participated in mountain bike races and was a road cyclist and experienced outdoorswoman.
Lokan had been looking forward to the Montana bike trip for months, said Mary Flowers, another friend from Chico. Lokan had taken long-distance bike trips and on this one was accompanied by her sister and a friend, Flowers said.
“She was talking about her summer plans – this wonderful wild adventure, riding her bike on, I don’t know, a 400-mile trip or something,” Flowers said. “A woman in her 60s, and she’s doing this kind of stuff – she had a passion for life that was out of the ordinary.”
Another friend remembered Lokan as a free spirit with many friends.
“She always greeted 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,” said Leesa Stefano, who met Lokan when Stefano moved to Sandpoint, Idaho, in 2006 and got involved in a bicycling club to which Lokan belonged.
“We were all really excited for her, because we know what it meant,” Stefano said about the bike ride. “We couldn’t wait to hear the stories. It’s considered an epic ride.”
Lokan and two others were camping when a bear startled them at 3 a.m. Tuesday before wandering off, Montana wildlife officials said. The bicyclists removed food from their tents, stored it and went back to sleep, officials said.
About 4:15 a.m., the sheriff’s office received a 911 call after two people in a tent near the victim’s were awakened by sounds of the attack, Powell County Sheriff Gavin Roselles said. They discharged their bear spray, and the bear ran away.
“The fact that it was right in town – that’s pretty messed up,” Thurmond told the Missoulian.
People who camp in grizzly bear country – whether deep in the woods or in a developed campground – are advised to keep food and scented products like toothpaste away from their campsites at all times and to cook elsewhere.
If a bear comes through a campsite, it’s important to stay on lookout for the animal to return, said Greg Lemon, spokesperson for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Wildlife officials initially used helicopter flights to search for the grizzly. They also set up large traps – made out of culverts and baited with roadkill – in and around Ovando. That included traps near a chicken coop that the bear raided the night Lokan was killed, as well as near the campsite.
Investigators obtained DNA left by the bear in the attack.
The wardens feel they could easily identify the bear, which was recorded on a store’s surveillance camera in the minutes after its first visit to Lokan’s campsite, Lemon said.
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