Down East 2013 ©
Sounds like the Baxter equivalent of an urban legend, but I've heard it from a number of sources – there's a toll bear on the Slaughter Pond Trail. The furry fellow plays it like this: when a fisherman comes up the trail on his way back from a bit of angling at Slaughter Pond, a sixty-six-acre basin just outside the park's western boundary, Ursa Major will step into the trail. He'll sit there on his haunches, blocking the way past, until he's paid a trout. Once fed, he'll carry his scaly snack off into the woods, allowing the angler by. If the fisherman tries to make an end run around him, he'll cut them off. Essentially, he'll catch you, and then release you only when you give him that trout he's smelling. The bear apparently doesn't bother people who are unburdened by fish. His nose is discerning enough that he can tell the difference between a successful fisherman and an unsuccessful one. But if you have a fish, he wants it, and word is he's getting what he wants.
Slaughter Pond is accessed from Kidney Pond and sits near the base of Doubletop Mountain. It's well liked by local fisherman, so popular that we've had to gate the entrance to the trail this year, because they'd drive in farther than they're supposed to and park in one of the few areas in BSP where we can land helicopters in the event of an emergency. So now you have to walk a little, but it's worth it: the fishing tends to be good, as evidenced by the zillions of canoes that fishermen leave in there. (Arriving at the shore of the pond is slightly surreal because you expect it to be a quiet, wilderness pond like so many others in the park and you find dozens of multi-colored boats leaning against trees, propped up on boulders, sitting on top of one another.)
If you had to pick a pond for your ransom scheme, this would be a good one to pick. This is the Yogi-est bear that I've heard of in my time at BSP. There have been a few others that have shown a bit of initiative, but we don't have anything that quite compares to the canny grizzlies out west. I've had a little previous experience with a black bear on the prowl.
The night that I moved from my old duty station at Katahdin Stream to my new one at Daicey Pond, a small bear climbed through the screen and plopped onto the porch of my camp at Katahdin Stream. He didn't find much of interest so he wandered off to the campground. There he let himself into an SUV, working his front paws into a crack in the window, putting his back legs on the car's body, and yanking, shattering the glass. He proceeded to climb in and scratch up the leather seats. (Before this, he'd scaled the back of a Subaru Legacy and sat on the rear windshield wiper. The rear windshield wiper of a Subaru Legacy is not strong enough to hold up a 150-lb bear.)
Bruce told me once of a bear that let himself into the back of a pickup truck camper, and had a snack. When he was trapped – which is what we do with problem bears – he had two tags on him. Which meant that he'd been caught and relocated twice before.
I'm not sure if this bear will prove quite that resourceful. I'm not even sure he exists. This story has the ring of a fishing tale to me, very yarny, something a fisherman who's having good luck would tell people to discourage them from visiting the pond. One of these days, though, I'm going to stuff a trout in my pocket and go for a hike on the Slaughter Pond Trail to find out.