By TOM KUGLIN | Independent Record

LINCOLN, Mont. (AP) — One of western Montana’s most famous grizzly bears now has its own interpretive display for the many visitors who stop by the Forest Service’s Lincoln Ranger District office.

In 2007, a driver hit and killed the 830-pound, 12-year-old male bear on U.S. Highway 200 outside of Lincoln. The bear quickly gained notoriety for its exceptional size, likely from its propensity to scavenge food amongst dwellings, and the clamoring of entities that wanted the animal after it had been stuffed. Officials finally determined the Lincoln bear’s final home would be the Forest Service office, where it came to reside in 2008.

The initial buzz around the bruin immediately made the office a must-stop location for tourists passing through, said Forest Service biologist Pat Shanley. The opportunity to use the bear for education led to the recent completion of an interpretive display, full of grizzly facts and the famous bear’s story.

“We still get quite a few with everyone on vacation that stop to see it,” Shanley said. “It’s certainly not like it was that first year when it was kind of crazy. From a local standpoint, a lot of people bring guests out to see it and they really like the display.”

Included in the display is information on the natural history of grizzlies, their feeding habits and bear safety. An adjoining “Be Bear Aware” wall advises visitors on how to safely navigate the backcountry.

The big grizzly was first known to wildlife officials in 1996 when it was captured as a cub along the Rocky Mountain Front near Choteau, according to an informational pamphlet. When captured, the bear and its brother had found trouble by feeding on grain, and were captured and moved.

After officials moved the bears, the Lincoln grizzly returned 13 days and 33 miles later to the ranch, but the grain was removed and it left the area.

In October 1996, a vehicle hit the bear and biologists were concerned it might not survive. The animal recovered and they tracked it until 1998, when it disappeared, the pamphlet says.

In 2004, hair samples reveled the bear had moved to the Blackfoot River drainage between Lincoln and Ovando and north of Seeley Lake.

That fateful day on the highway came in October 2007.

The interpretive display was spearheaded by the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, with fundraising from the Blackfoot Challenge and commissioned by the Forest Service, said Lincoln District Ranger Michael Stansberry.

“We are very excited to show off the new display that features two stories: the story of this specific grizzly bear, and the story of how a community came together to transform this unfortunate accident to a positive educational opportunity,” he said. “This renovation happened because it’s important to the community that visitors are educated in bear safety so they can be sure to enjoy their time in Lincoln and its surrounding wild places.”

Work on the interpretive display began in February 2014 with Helena vendors such as Signs Now and Cinch Design and Communications, said Lee Huber of Cinch.

“It was a challenge in having a very small space and the amount of traffic and attention that comes through,” he said. “We wanted to be able to tell the story in a way so that rangers weren’t always having to take a break from work, and in a way the represents Lincoln and the unique environment that’s close to bears.

“It was a great project not just because I was part of it, but it was just one of those cool projects that means a lot to the community.”

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Information from: Independent Record, http://www.helenair.com