by Aaron Burns

DENVER – Karl Dearnley’s 6 a.m. run on July 15 around Luckey Point Road began like his other runs: he started to lap the circular path around the lakefront street. He built up his pace to a comfortable speed and continued jogging.

Then, things changed.

Dearnley rounded a corner halfway through Luckey Point and thought he saw a large black dog in the distance. He gazed toward the animal and after a moment of surprise, realized a black bear was about 30 feet away from him. The bear, standing about three-foot high on all fours, looked right at Dearnley.

He said he froze for a moment, then backpedaled and “retreated in the opposite direction.”

“I’ve been told that the bear was more frightened of me than I was of it,” Dearnley said. “But personally, I don’t believe that.”

The 57-year-old Denver resident is originally from West Yorkshire, England. He moved to the U.S. in 1990 to work in outside sales for Denver-based industrial equipment supplier M.C. Schroeder, and has been here since then. His encounter with the bear was his first.

Returning home, Dearnley told his wife, Teresa, who shared Dearnley’s initial sense of disbelief.

“She was in shock,” Dearnley said. “It’s a (surprising) thing to have happen to you, but she believed me when I told her.

“I didn’t know what to do at first. This isn’t something you expect.”

Dearnley said his neighbors saw the bear later on in the day. He had already called 911 and animal control by the time they saw it.

“I believe it just came by to fish and eat,” Dearnley said. “I had no idea they were so good at fishing. I’ve heard of bears being around the Catawba River for years, but I didn’t think I’d ever see one.”

However, black bear sightings are no longer rare in the lake area, according to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

The number of black bears has grown throughout the state in the past 60 years: they were limited to remote areas. But according to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, black bears are found in approximately 60 percent of the state’s land area.

Denver isn’t the only place in the Piedmont to have a recent bear sighting.

There was a reported sighting in Northwest Charlotte in May 2011.

“We get a lot of calls (to biologists) about bear sightings,” said the NCWRC’s Carolyn Rickard.

“Most people’s first instinct when they see a bear is to be scared, but you shouldn’t be. Bear attacks are so rare.”

The sighting hasn’t kept Dearnley from continuing his 6 a.m. run. But it changed his level of focus.

“My eyes were fixated on that area the next few times I passed it,” Dearnley said.

“But it’s been all clear since then.”

Facts about North Carolina black bears

• The majority of black bears live in the mountain and coastal regions, but some occasionally migrate to the Piedmont

• Bears can be 5-6 feet long and 2-3 feet tall when on all fours

• Bears are usually black with a brown muzzle

• Females weigh 100-300 pounds. Males weigh 200-500 pounds

• There has not been an unprovoked bear attack in North Carolina

• They have been clocked at speeds of 35 miles per hour in short distances.

Useful tips if you encounter a bear

• Stay calm and don’t panic

• Clap loudly and make noise if it approaches you

• Don’t approach it or try to corner it

• Don’t feed it!

• Back up and slowly walk away

• If it doesn’t see you, pretend to ignore it

– Source: N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission