Bears on the prowl made their way to Waynesboro City Council on Monday night.
Francine Johnson, a Baker Street resident, told council a male and female black bear and two cubs were spotted recently outside St. James Baptist Church, where she attends. Johnson said she’s concerned what might happen should children or elderly residents come into contact with the wild animals.
“We have children playing out there. ... I am here tonight to see what is the law?” she asked, saying she had heard rumors that some residents have suggested they might respond by arming themselves should they or their family members be confronted. “We don’t want to wait until one attacks.”
City Manager Mike Hamp told Johnson that while it is illegal to discharge a weapon in the city, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries maintains a hotline and city police will respond if available to “preserve order.” But Hamp and council members said one consequence of living in the Shenandoah Valley is that at times human residents must share their space with their ursine neighbors.
This summer, Hamp said, the city also has received reports of bears in the Tree Streets, Club Court and Country Club neighborhoods.
“Local government doesn’t do anything to trap or shoot or manage wildlife in any way,” he said.
The best measures, he said, are to take preventive steps by securing trash cans and eliminating food odors and other receptacles containing food such as bird feeders. The city really depends on the community to use best practices to keep bears away, an answer Hamp acknowledged may be frustrating to hear
“What they’re seeking is the food source,” he said.
According to the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, anyone confronted by a black bear is encouraged not to run because that may prompt the bear to chase. Also, if in a group, stay together and make sure that your dog stays leashed, the department says.
If the bear hasn’t seen you, calmly leave the area, while making a bit of noise so the bear will not be surprised by you, wildlife officials say. But if you have been spotted by the bear, back away slowly while facing the animal; speaking softly may also let the bear know you mean no harm, they say.
In the unlikely event that a black bear attacks you, fight back, according to the department. Black bears have been driven away with rocks, sticks and even bare hands.
More information about black bears can be found online at www.dgif.virginia.gov/bear-aware or by calling the department’s Wildlife Conflict Helpline at 855-571-9003
Basic Park soccer complex
In other business, council on a second reading agreed to allocate $20,900 for engineering work related to the Basic Park soccer complex.
Last year, the city entered into an agreement with Soccer Organization Charlottesville Area to build a dedicated soccer complex at the park on the city’s northern boundary. SOCA is matching the city’s contribution for a total of $41,800 to pay for engineering at the complex.
Plans call for the complex to include five or six soccer fields, a pavilion, walking trails, kayak launch and river access.
According to a memorandum of understanding adopted in May 14, 2008, the entire project is expected to cost more than $3.2 million, with SOCA to fund the estimated $2.8 million construction of the fields. The organization also will be obligated to maintain the fields and will have exclusive rights to control and use them.
The city would provide funding for concessions and restrooms, a parking lot, sidewalks, utility lines and a share of the lights on the field.
Before moving forward on the project, expected to several years to complete, a feasibility was conducted starting last August to see if it was viable.
The city and SOCA will enter into a 30-year use agreement once plans are final.
Basic Park is an 18-acre city park located off Genicom Drive in an industrial section of Waynesboro. The park has been home to softball leagues and picnics.
Last year, Waynesboro Parks and Recreation Director Dwayne Jones said the facility, once complete, would bring as many as 450 players and their families from out of town for overnight stays, dining and other spending.
SOCA was founded in Charlottesville in 1982. In addition Charlottesville, the organization serves youth soccer players in Augusta and Albemarle counties.