The selectman from the suburbs of Boston recalls that all was bucolic in Virginia's Shenandoah National Park as the evening began.
Sunlight lanced through the forest and the warm air at dusk smelled sweet. Even the bear lollygagging around the campsite seemed charming -- at first.
After all, Carl Nuissl, who was camping with his sons and a niece, had read a reassuring park pamphlet on bears earlier in the day and had no idea he'd be unable to heed its warning: "Keep unnatural and unpleasant indteractions between people and bears to a minimum."
What followed Sunday evening on the Blue Ridge Mountains about 100 miles southwest of Washington was a dusk-to-dark reign of terror by a bear.
"This was a marauding bear on a rampage," said Nuissl, a building contractor and an elected town official in the Boston suburb of Wrentham. He recounted the bear episode yesterday while relaxing at a friend's home in Falls church.
Although the bear hurt no one, she did steal a bottle of Aunt Jemima maple syrup, rip up four band new backpacks, bend a tent pole, crush a saplinfg, try unsuccessfully to eat a flashlight, get up on her hindlegs and roar, terrifying four people from the suburbs.
Shenandoah Park Chief Ranger Larry Hakel said yesterday the bear was bucking a tread. "Our reports of bear problems are on the decline since we've put into operation a bearmanagement program, "he said.
Reports of "incidents" between the 300 bears who live in the huge park and the 2 million people who visit it annually are down by more than 50 percent this year, Hakel said. There have been 38 complaints this year compared to 86 last year at this time, the ranger said.
On Sunday Evening, however, all these measures did not help Nuissl, his 19-year-old niece and his two sons, ages 11 and 13.
They had left their car near the opening of Piney Ridge trail and hiked 2 1/2 miles into the woods before setting up camp. The bear rumbled out of the forest as Nuissl's sons, Kurt and Gunther, were trying to put their food-laden backpacks up in a tree.
The pamphlet, entitled "Bears: Friend or Foe?," which Nuissl read had advised that food be placed in sealed containers and slung from a tree branch too thin to support a bear. The pamphlet also said that if a bear is braxen enough to approach a camper, "hitting a pot with a stick" will send it scurrying.
Gunther Nuissl recalled that when he saw the bear he immediately got out a frying pan and started banging it against a tree. It [the bear] didn't do nothing. It just kep walking around the camp," Gunther said.
All of a sudden the bear stopped circling, Nuissl said, and dashed through the campsite, grabbing Kurt's backpack (the one containing the Aunt Jemima syrup.)
That theft and the subsequent pillage of Kurt's backpack began what Nuissl said turned into four sorties by the bear.
"We weren't really excited in the beginning," Nuissl said, "It was funny to us, hysterically funny that silly bear would do this. We joked that it was just a big overgrown dog. We didn't perceive the reality of the situation."
On the second sortie, about 15 minutes after the first, the bear dashed into camp and "started crunching up things," according to Gunther.
The bear chewed up a frying pan aluminum drinking cups and tent poles. "Bears have strong jaws," noted Teress Hirrel, Nuissl's niece and a sophomore at the Univesity o Maryland.
Weary of the bear's belligerence, Nuissl recalls that he "got a big long stick, started slamming the ground and screaming." The bear, apparently intimidated by the stick, left camp.
Nuissl said he anticipated the bear's third attack, about 15 minutes after the second. He kept the stick and screamed some mote. "By this time we were scared because this bear was crazy. It was a bear with aluminum tags on its ears," Nuissl said.
Ranger Hakel said yesterday that, historically speaking there is little to fear from the bears at Shenandoah park. The ranger said there have only been minor injiries to tourists by bars in recent years at the park, and no reported injuries in the past two years.
"These bears here [American black bears, with a maximum weight of about 500 pounds] are not like the black bears you encounter out West where they have to compete with the grizzly bear for food. The bear we have here have lost a lot of their fear of man," Hakel said.
Back at Nuissl's camp, the bear that apparently had lost its fear of man launched its fourth raid in an hour when Nuisdl was up in a tree, trying to tie up his food on a skinny limb.
The bear stood up on two legs and growled at Nuissl until the Massachusetts politician scrambled from the tree. Then the bear attacked the tree,; grabbing as his bounty the three backpacks; Nuissl had hung there.
Nuissl said that at that point, with the woods falling into darkness, he could take no more. "I got a really big stick and went after the bear."
The bear fled, leaving the back-packs behind. "I guess the bear changed its mind and left the area because my uncle started yelling so much," said Teress Hirrel.
The four compaers quickly got their gear together and walked through the night back to their car. "Never to come back to Shenandoah Park," said Nuissl yesterday.
Ranger Hakel said he was suprised to hear of Nuissl's bear incident.
"That's the kind of bear we want to find because it has gone further than most bears." CAPTION: Illustration, Bear, Friend or foe?. . . ., Cover of National Park Service Brochure; Picture, Gunther, Kurt and Carl Nuissl (left to right) show what bear did to camping gear. By Douglas Chevalier -- The Washington Post