CONNEAUT LAKE — One Conneaut Lake swimmer may have momentarily forgotten about his worries and his strife Monday afternoon, but those worldly concerns returned quickly after an efficient dog-paddle brought the soaking visitor back to solid footing.
“It seemed like it wanted the hell out of here,” Conneaut Lake resident Bob Bazylak said of the tourist that exited the lake a few steps away from where Bazylak had been mowing the lawn moments earlier.
The black bear that drew the attention of Bazylak and other residents as well as the occupants of at least one boat had just swum across the lake from west to east near the southern end of Conneaut Lake at about 2 p.m.
“It swam pretty darn good for a big bear,” said Cindy Fish, who was boating with her husband in Icehouse Bay, near the lake’s southern end, when they spotted what they at first thought might be a German shepherd in the water. Perhaps another boater’s pet had fallen overboard, Fish recalled thinking.
“It was so far out from shore, it didn’t make sense — it was weird how far out it was,” she said.
As they approached, the Fishes realized the dog-paddler was, in fact, a bear-paddler. The bear maintained a leisurely pace and, Fish said, seemed to have an idea where he was headed as he made a beeline for the eastern shore, where a number of people were on their docks or nearby.
The Fishes circled around to sound the bear alarm as word spread onshore of the impending arrival.
Helen Miklos was one of the people waiting there. A summer resident at the lake who lives a few doors down from Bazylak, Miklos had seen on social media that a bear had been spotted a little earlier near Al’s Melons. The vegetable stand at 10304 Route 6 is slightly more than a mile east of the lake’s western shore as the bear scrambles. The lake itself near Bazylak’s residence is a little more than a quarter-mile across.
“That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen here,” said Miklos, who watched the bear swim past her house after hearing neighbors trumpet its arrival. “They’ve pulled a lot of stuff from out of this lake, but nothing like this.”
After swimming alongside several docks in the area and sending a couple of neighbors running, the bear, still pursued by the Fishes, exited at Bazylak’s property.
Cathy Fish has been coming to the lake for summer visits since she was married 40 years ago; her husband has spent summers there for 67 years, she added.
“It’s the first time we’ve ever seen anything like that,” Fish said.
Bazylak, who has resided on the lakeshore since 1998, has seen plenty of cranes, geese and deer in the area, but this was his first sighting of a bathing bear. As it came ashore, Bazylak was about 15 yards away.
“It was literally coming right up at me,” he recalled moments after the close encounter, “and I backed into the house and kept taking video.”
By that time, the authorities had been contacted as well and as the bear made its way off between lakeside houses it soon encountered a police escort.
Officer James LeVier of Conneaut Lake Regional Police Department said another officer helped to guide the bear through the neighborhood and safely across Route 18. Later communication with Pennsylvania Game Commission officials suggested that with mating season approaching, the bear may have been searching for convenient sources of food in lakeshore garbage cans, according to LeVier. No decisions had been made regarding an attempt to trap and relocate the animal.
When last seen, he added, the bear was wandering east into a wooded area adjacent to Route 18.
Mike Crowley can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.