KAYSVILLE — The Kelly family traveled to Wyoming over Father's Day weekend to take their oldest child to work at Camp New Fork in the western part of the state.
Sunday morning, they awakened at their campsite and made a Father's Day spread for breakfast — "pancakes and bacon and all of that fun stuff," said Brandon Kelly, patriarch of the family. Camp church services followed nearby, but that would be the end of the peaceful, calm Father's Day.
"When church was over, three of my children left without telling us where they were going, who was going with them, and so my parents and I were walking to the camp to see if we could find them when two staffers came running toward us yelling that there was a bear in camp," Kamila Kelly said. "They were running from the direction of our camp."
She told the camp staff that her children were missing, prompting them to turn right around to search for the children. She returned to the lodge to find her husband, who ran to help, as she waited for word.
"It was excruciating waiting in there, not knowing, not being able to see out, not having any contact or knowing where my children really were," Kamila Kelly said. "Then the moment I saw my 7-year-old Moriah being brought up by the staff, was just such a relief and she jumped into my arms and said 'Baden and Logan saved my life.'"
Baden Kelly, 11, said he was walking back to the family's campground after church when his older brother, Logan, went to his cabin and Baden "had a feeling" that he should bypass the bathroom and stay with his sister. He estimates it was less than 30 seconds before he saw a young black bear near the family's trailer.
"I said, 'Bear,'" he recalled Tuesday. "I said, 'Run Moriah,' and she didn't run so I got to her and started running with her and that's when the bear started running after us."
Another camper and Logan returned and began to make loud noises to distract the bear. Brandon Kelly said they were told the bear had been getting into coolers at campsites for several weeks and was tracked down by rangers.
He said the bear tried to attack one of the rangers, leading them to kill the bear. He said the whole experience was traumatic.
"It was really scary," Brandon Kelly said. "It really made us evaluate what is Father's Day, how can we all get along better and do things and really just bring the whole family together?"
As Utahns head into the state's forests and parks to enjoy the state's many recreational offerings, wildlife and forest officials are telling outdoor enthusiasts to take precautions to avoid bear encounters.
Mark Hadley of the state Division of Wildlife Resources, said most estimates place the number of black bears in the state around 2,000.
"They're the only species of bear we have in Utah, but they're spread (across) the state," he said.
The Kellys thought they had cleaned up their campsite properly, Kamila Kelly said. Once finished cleaning, they headed to the camp lodge for church services. But it may have been grease or other remnants from breakfast on their grill that attracted the bear.
"There's two important things to keep in mind when you go camping in the forest areas of Utah and those two things are (that) bears have an incredible sense of smell and they're attracted to the same types of things that we like, that people like," Hadley said.
He said campers need to survey their campsite and identify what could potentially put off any kind of scent and eliminate those smells with proper cleaning and storage. Keeping food stored in a secure place, such as a car or an enclosed trailer helps as does thoroughly cleaning everything used to prepare, cook and eat meals.
"Make sure all of that's cleaned really well," Hadley said. "Scrub the top of your cooking grill really well, get all the food scraps off it. Clean your dishes and things like that, make sure that's clean. Another thing you can do is don't toss food scraps and other items around your camp area."
He said it's also important to store trash in an area where a bear can't smell or reach it. He said this will protect not only campers, but the bears themselves.
Kathy Jo Pollock, spokesperson for the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, said there have been as many as nine bear sightings on the Wasatch Front this year, prompting her office to send out a number of bear safety tips. She, too, reiterated the importance of a clean camp and said campers should wipe down their picnic tables, too, and should avoid burning trash or dumping grease into campfires.
"To make it an extremely pleasant trip for them and for the wildlife, they definitely need to make sure that their camps are clean," she said. "It's not just bears, it's other smaller mammals that are also attracted to that —raccoons, skunks."
She warned against eating in our near camping tents. And said to make noise when hiking or walking in the woods to scare off any bears and to do the same if you come upon a bear, but while avoiding eye contact.
"Do not run," she said. "Just make a lot of noise. If you do encounter (a bear) that hasn't heard you coming, back away from the bear. Do not turn your back on the bear, because once you turn, you usually start to run and you start to panic and that panics the bear, too." B
Baden Kelly said he learned how fast even young bears can be. He said he wouldn't have run if he wasn't worried for his sister.
"I feel like I did the right thing," he said. "We're just lucky that bear wasn't any older because it wasn't able to run fast enough to catch up to us."