By Terry Karkos
PERU, ME — Officials at RSU 10’s Dirigo Elementary School off Route 108 are taking every precaution to safeguard its students and staff after an adult black bear was seen Wednesday on school grounds.
Principal Charlie Swan said Friday that he personally has yet to see the bear, but just the same, he alerted a Maine game warden in Gray.
“No staffer has notified me yet that they saw it, but two days ago on Wednesday during an after-school program, some folks said they saw it running across the lower edge of our property,” Swan said. “It was a two-second sprint. People who reported it saw it on the fly. They said it was a good-sized bear.”
District officials are keeping students inside the school and will notify the warden service should they see the bear again on school property.
“The staff is on alert and if we see it, we will keep the kids in,” he said. “We also have a nature walk path that students and teachers use and I’ve closed that down for now.”
Swan said the area where the bear was seen is beyond a lower swampy area at the bottom of a hill that rises to a grassy area by Route 108.
“I’ve heard no reports of him hanging around our property,” he said. “The game warden told me they should be hibernating now. He also said that if we see it again within two weeks to let him know and he would take action.”
While the bear hasn’t been seen at the school since Wednesday, several drivers on Route 108 saw the bear on Thursday about a mile from the school, including Daniel Bernard, 40, of Peru.
“It was beside the road, but what was so amazing was that it wasn’t even concerned that cars were zinging by while it was chowing down the acorns,” Bernard said Friday in Lewiston. “I have a bumper crop of acorns in my yard.”
He said he was quite surprised to see the bear, because he’d never seen one in the wild before. He lives next to woods across from the elementary school.
“I was the first one to pull over (to the side of the road),” said Bernard, a systems support engineer for North Country Associates in Lewiston. The bear was on the Androscoggin River side of Route 108.
Other drivers simply stopped in the west-bound lane of Route 108 and put their emergency flashers on, he said.
“They had it completely blocked,” he said. “It was ridiculous.”
He snapped some pictures of the bear and shot a video lasting nearly a minute and a half that was quickly going viral after he posted it on his Facebook page that day.
The bear can be seen contentedly munching on acorns while occasionally looking up at traffic passing by.
“Right after I took the video, it took off across the yard and headed toward the railroad tracks,” Bernard said.
As of early Friday afternoon, Bernard’s video had been shared 140 times and viewed more than 3,745 times.
“It’s viral for the River Valley,” he said.