RED RIVER GORGE — The Red River Gorge area in Daniel Boone National Forest is closed until further notice after what officials said was the first black bear attack on a human in modern Kentucky history.
Tim Scott, 56, of Springfield said he was hiking on Pinch-Em Tight Trail on Sunday when the bear attacked him without provocation about 2:15 p.m.
Scott said in a telephone interview that he was standing on a ledge, his blue heeler dog with him on a retractable leash, when he realized there was something behind them. When he turned, he said, the black bear was standing on the trail.
As it ambled off, he took some pictures of it with his iPhone. He had been walking several hundred yards ahead of his wife and adult son.
"I was going to call my wife and say, 'I don't think we ought to be on the trail with a bear,' " Scott said.
But he didn't get the chance.
He said the bear got back on the trail and "began walking towards me deliberately."
"I retreated down the trail and ducked into the woods," he said, but the bear followed.
When his dog became excited, he said, he let her go.
"She took off like a bullet," he said.
Scott said he took a few more pictures, but the bear came closer, eventually getting within about 3 feet of him.
He dropped his belt pack as a distraction and picked up a 6-foot long "very rotten pine limb."
As the bear continued to approach, he kept backing up. He tried hitting the bear with the end of the stick, then dropping his hat and cell phone case, but the bear was undeterred.
After walking backward about 70 feet on the trail, Scott said, he came to a point where he was going to have to take a step up. He had to turn his back to the bear to get a foothold.
"He lunged forward and bit the back of my calf," Scott said.
He said he tried getting behind a small tree, but it didn't provide much protection, and his stick crumbled.
The bear "grabbed me by the back of my right thigh," Scott said. "He took a couple of bites."
Then, Scott said, he "really dug in deep and began shaking me kind of like a dog would do with a toy.
"I'm down on the ground. His teeth are deep in me."
Scott said he had a knife in his pocket, but the bear was standing on it.
"I had to move his leg" to retrieve the knife, Scott said.
He opened his knife and prepared to stab the bear in the eye.
"I figured that's about all I had left," he said.
At that point, Scott said, two couples who had been hiking showed up, and one of the hikers, Anthony Gobel, slung his daypack into the bear, hitting it a couple of times. (Gobel's Facebook page, on which he describes the encounter, says he is from Indiana.)
Scott said he got to his feet, and the four other hikers and Scott's wife and son yelled at the bear and waved sticks at it. The bear did not leave.
Scott said he had "some huge holes in me." He strapped a belt around his thigh to slow the bleeding and walked back to the trail head. The bear followed at greater and greater distances until finally it was gone.
"We saw him for quite a while," Scott said.
After Scott got to the trail head, he said, an ambulance arrived within five to eight minutes to take him to the hospital in Irvine.
He was transferred to University of Kentucky chandler Hospital and received about 50 to 60 stitches, mostly in his right leg. Scott said he was released Sunday night after about eight hours in the emergency room.
"Anthony Gobel went above and beyond," Scott said. "I had two chances to survive this. One was him. One was the knife."
Campers who flocked to the gorge a week before Fourth of July for rock climbing and hiking, some from out of state, were turned away at the gates Monday. Campgrounds were evacuated as state officials set traps and tried to find the bear.
"This is crazy," said Sarah Sutton, who arrived Monday afternoon with a van full of young people from Teen Extreme Camp in Bloomington, Ind. "We don't know where we're going to go."
The group planned to camp and climb for four days. U.S. Forest Service officials directed them to other recreation areas, such as Cave Run Lake an hour away and Natural Bridge State Park, which remained open just south of the Mountain Parkway.
State wildlife officials are setting traps in the area to capture the bear and, until they have caught it or know that it has left the area, the Red River Gorge recreation area will be closed, said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Kimberly Morgan.
Scott said he thinks the bear should be euthanized: "Just like humans, there are some bad ones that need to be taken out of circulation."
But he added, "I have to defend the right of bears to be where they live. ... It was theirs before it was ours."
Steven Dobey, black bear program manager for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, said it's rare for black bears to attack unprovoked.
"The bear wasn't interested in the man's belongings. He was more interested in a predatory nature," Dobey said. "It's rare, but it has been known to happen."
Scott said the bear had a red tag in each of its ears and a stainless steel clamp in one ear, indicating it had been captured before, but Dobey said that doesn't mean the bear was known to be aggressive.
"In cases where a bear would be aggressive to a human, we would not release that animal," he said.
Officials are hoping to discover where the bear came from. Male black bears are known to wander great distances, Morgan said.
The closed area includes all National Forest System lands north of Natural Bridge State Resort Park to U.S. 460 in Menifee, Powell and Wolfe counties.
Anyone who sees a black bear in the Red River Gorge area is urged to call 1-800-252-5378.
Scott said he's been hiking in the gorge since he was a child, and he'd never seen a bear there before.
He plans to go back though and said he will "look forward to seeing the next bear there."