Bear in park surprises, worries Gautier residents

Published 8:52 am Tuesday, July 24, 2018

GAUTIER, Miss. (AP) — Bear sightings in a park in a south Mississippi town have residents surprised and wary.

A park ranger in the city of Gautier told the Sun Herald he spotted a bear at Shepard State Park a little more than a week ago.

The park now has a warning sign at its entrance.

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The next night, Norma Arnold stepped out of her home, which backs up to the park, with her chocolate Lab. She pulled the dog inside after spotting the bear.

Officials believe the animal is a Louisiana black bear, a variety found in the southern two-thirds of Mississippi.

Some wonder if the bear has been living in the park for a while, given the park’s remote location bordered by bayous, railroad tracks and a road.

Still, Steve Shepard, who lives south of the park, said he’s never heard of a bear in the area, and his family has lived there for generations.

Chassity Bilbo, the city’s recreation director, pointed out there have been bears spotted in Gulfport and along the Gulf Coast recently. This one was not only in the state park, but also in neighborhoods nearby.

City Park Ranger Clark Gautier says bear tracks were recorded in 2012 in the park.

He was wondering if it’s possible the bear grew up in the park.

“There’s tons of berry bushes and wildlife here,” he said, “deer, ‘possums, large rodents, bobcats and tons of rabbits. It’s like its own little nature paradise.”