The best way, they say, to see large wildlife in Algonquin Park, is to look for a long line of cars parked on Highway 60. This has been my experience in 30-plus years of camping in Ontario. The line of cars will almost always lead you to a photogenic moose. Moose often hang out in the lower marshy areas beside highways.
While there are always warning signs about bears in the campground, and clear instructions about food storage, I have never seen one up close, until now.
Our family was camping at Pog Lake a few weekends ago, and we saw a total of three black bears. (No, they weren’t in a cottage, and they weren’t indignantly commenting over
broken chairs and consumed porridge. However, one WAS a baby bear.)
One swam across the Madawaska River 30 meters in front of us (this where I learned to paddle, and where we are now teaching our own little ones). He didn’t seem affected by our presence, just climbed onto shore, shook himself like a giant dog, and proceeded on to his grocery trip at the campground.
We saw two others by the side of the road. One was pulling a harvest from roadside bushes. It didn’t seem to mind us, and just kept plucking. The other (the baby) was just running across a footbridge. My pictures had to be taken with my phone through the window of the car. (You don’t mess with bears.) (Picture to the right…not bad, considering!) Unfortunately, my husband’s camera was in the trunk.
It was really exciting to see these animals in the wild (from a safe location of course). I feel fortunate that my kids are still able to experience this sort of thing. However, the reasons the bears are in the campgrounds are not so positive.
We found out from some other paddlers that the bears are suffering this year from a lack of berries. The late frost in spring killed off the buds, leaving the bears to venture closer and closer to people, roads, and campgrounds in search of “Pic-a-nic baskets” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cyEFNQFWBtY).
The fact that bears (even black bears) are increasingly spending time in campgrounds is less than ideal both for them and for campers. People are sometimes irresponsible with their food and garbage while camping, making their campsites very attractive to hungry bears. Human food isn’t good for bears (heck, most of it isn’t good for humans), and they can form a dependency on it. Bears can become aggressive if they feel threatened, and “nuisance bears” sometimes must be relocated (or worse).
Over the past few years, I have also noticed the absence of the squirrels that typically chatter loudly and indignantly throw pine cones at our tarps. Apparently their food sources have been altered this year as well.
I confirmed both of these changes (more bears, fewer squirrels) with the people at “Friends of Algonquin Park” and they told me that both animal populations have been affected by food availability.
As we tear down more habitats, build new roads and mess with the climate, it is clear that animal patterns are going to change. Perhaps the changes this year are just a part of natural fluctuations. Perhaps not. Perhaps they are part of a bigger pattern of change. I just don’t know.
I’d love to believe that Algonquin Park is immune to these sorts of things, a place where nothing changes year after year. Of all the places I know, Algonquin Park is the one that has changed the least since I was a child. But, change is inevitable.
It was still pretty amazing to see the bears.
Please see my other articles on camping at Algonquin:
Oh, and if you don’t know the song, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMzmSnQjEdY