SOUTH BRUNSWICK, NJ – The only evidence left on Monday afternoon of a three-bruin morning invasion at the Woodlot Park picnic pavilion was an overturned green can.
“It was the first time in my 28 years with the township that I saw a bear in Woodlot Park,” Recreation Director Tom Morris said Monday afternoon. “It was certainly having a grand old time eating birthday cake out of the garbage.”
Morris, whose office is located inside the Community Center at the 152-acre park on New Road, said that officials learned of the momma and two black bear cubs’ visit around 8 a.m. Monday morning by people using the trails in the mostly wooded park.
“We were in the office. There was a report of a mother and two cubs in the park,” he said. “One of our staff saw the baby (bear) in the back by the pavilion.”
Morris said he alerted a class of children, ages 5-7, that planned to use the pavilion for some outdoor painting activities that there was a bear there and that they should stay inside for the day.
He said the kids went to one of the rear windows facing the pavilion and saw the cub eating out of the garbage can about 150 feet away.
“Their eyes got real big (seeing the bear),” Morris said.
Township police were called and responded to the park, chasing the bear into the woods, Morris said, but it returned around noon-1 p.m. and stayed in the wooded area around the pavilion for 15-20 minutes before going back into the underbrush, Morris said.
Police later put out a Nixle alert about the sightings and advised residents to stay clear of the park, but there was not an imminent risk from the bears.
Morris, however, said that he wasn’t going to call off the softball games scheduled for the day and evening.
“I’m not going to keep people clear of Woodlot Park for softball games because there was a cub 800 yards away in the woods,” Morris said. “It’s not going to want to mess with anyone playing softball.”
He said he did tell parents and children using the playground at the time of the sighting about the bears for safety sake, but believed the bears were just hungry and looking for the garbage from the weekend parties and picnics.
“The garbage isn’t picked up until Monday,” he said.
During the weekend, there were several bear sightings in the Beekman Road area.
Police said that bears, especially this year, have been reported in all 21 counties in the state.
According to the Department of Environmental Protection, the bears look for food in garbage, and are getting more used to humans as a result of the more frequent interactions.
Most of this year’s sightings have been on the western side of Route 1 in the Kingston and Kendall Park sections of the township, while there have been a few in Monmouth Junction on the eastern side of the highway.
The state advises residents to fully cover garbage and try and avoid direct interactions with the bears, which normally do not pose a threat.
Residents should never feed the bears, corner them, throw objects or otherwise instigate them, the DEP said.
If you do encounter a bear, the DEP recommends remaining calm and not running, but rather avoiding direct eye contact and backing away slowly.
Calls to 911 should only be made if the bear is an immediate threat to humans, attacks a pet or is a nuisance, police said.
For all other sightings, residents should report them at the department’s non-emergency number, (732) 329-4646.