BY MICHAEL WALTON
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — A black bear visited Mancelona Middle School, a surprise to students and staffers alike.
Chad Culver, the school's principal, spied the large mammal on Monday about 9 a.m. when he looked out his window as he met with a teacher.
"Literally out by the bike rack, which is about 20 feet from my window, was a black bear," Culver said.
Culver watched the bear sniffing and walking around the bike rack before it ambled off behind the building and out of sight.
The bear's disappearance behind the building prompted Culver to call a stay-in-place lockdown. Students continued their classwork but could not leave the building.
The lockdown measure lasted only about 10 minutes, but before it ended the bear strutted past the school's large library windows, much to the amazement and interest of the students inside, Culver said.
Culver called local law enforcement, but he received word shortly after that the bear was seen crossing U.S. 131 west of town.
Culver, who has been principal at Mancelona Middle School for five years, remembered a similar incident last year when a 10- or 12-point whitetail buck — "just a gigantic buck," he said — wandered onto school property. But Monday's bear sighting was a first for the middle school, if not the whole Village of Mancelona.
"I don't think anyone I've talked to has seen one in town," Culver said.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources estimates there are between 15,000 and 19,000 black bears statewide; about 90 percent of the animals reside in the Upper Peninsula.
Adult black bears weigh between 100 and 400 pounds and grow to an upright height of about five feet.
Black bears generally avoid humans, but they will endure contact with people when natural food sources become scarce, according to the DNR.