Meet David & Shannon Biegel
Questions and Intro by Conner Clemens -
Sixth generation Montanans, David and Shannon Biegel are passionate outdoors adventurers that have a lot to share about their experiences within Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.
Tell us about yourselves, how did you get started?
I am a 6th generation Montanan whose great great great grandparents and their four children came to Montana on the First Fisk Wagon Expedition in 1861 to try their luck in the gold camp of Bannack, Montana, where gold was discovered just a few months earlier. My parents loved Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, which they picked up from my grandparents and their parents. Looking through old photo albums, there are numerous photos of them enjoying vacations in these parks. And this passion for these national parks was passed on to me and my four siblings. Even though my Dad was very busy being a small town pharmacist and store owner, as well as being mayor for 20+ years, every chance he got, he and my mom would pack up their tiny Shasta trailer and throw us five kids into the "family truckster" and head for a park entrance.
Most of my fondest childhood memories are of these family vacations, and my passion for these parks never faded. I'm now on my 57th year in a row spending time in all three of these national treasures. Shannon grew up in a small town only 60 miles from my home town in Central Montana, and her parents loved these parks just as my mine did and took countless family vacations to all three of these parks. Shannon's best memories as a child are of these family vacations, and her passion for these parks only grew through the years. So in all reality, our lifestyle and our livelihoods are a direct result of our family's love for Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.
Where does the interest in wildlife come from?
Growing up in Central Montana, both my family and Shannon's family spent a ton of time in the outdoors whenever possible, either camping or hiking. Spending all of this time in the outdoors nurtured an incredibly strong interest in wildlife starting at a very young age.
What is your business and what exactly do you do?
I was an eye doctor (Doctor of Optometry) for many years and owned my own practice. Shannon was a travel agent. When we got together 22+ years ago, our mutual love for these national parks became overwhelming. We found that our careers were interfering with our true passion, so we decided to drop everything and figure out a way to make a living doing what we loved... which was exploring and enjoying our national parks. So in 2008 we began building a 500+ page website www.EnjoyYourParks.com which shows visitors where to go and what to do in Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. We have spent a lifetime in these parks so this was right up our alley. This site allowed us to spend over 250 days each year in the parks- photographing, hiking and mountain climbing.
When did you start getting into photography?
I began photographing nature my freshman year in high school (1978), as the small town I grew up in was (and still is) surrounded by abundant wildlife and awe-inspiring landscapes. My very first camera was a Kodak Instamatic, which I soon learned wasn't going to cut it, so my parents then bought me a Cannon AE1 and an off-brand manual focus 400mm lens. That's when it all started. Shannon began photographing nature in her 20s, so when we met, it was a perfect fit.
How do you stay safe while you are out in the field hiking, taking photography and so on?
We spend over 250 days each year in the parks hiking, mountain climbing and photographing. We've hiked all 734 miles of maintained hiking trails in Glacier Park many times over again, as well as the trails in Grand Teton National Parks and most of Yellowstone's trails. We spend a ton of time in the backcountry as we've climbed over 135 peaks in Glacier Park alone, and have backpacked all of the wilderness trails there. Spending all this time in the backcountry, we've had countless experiences with grizzly bears. In fact, enough to write a book. But through all of these encounters, we've never had to discharge our bear spray. We've lived around grizzly bears our entire lives and have learned a thing or two about their behavior.
The main reason we've stayed safe is we desperately try to avoid surprising a bear (or bears) on a hiking trail or when we are bushwacking our way to a peak. We talk very loudly. In fact, so loudly that it's annoying. We also clap our hands a lot and are always aware of our surroundings while hiking. By doing this, we've avoided so many situations that could have gone bad. Plus, we have our bear spray strapped onto our chest, giving us quick access in the event that we need it. And yes, we've had our bear spray out and ready to fire during some of our backcountry situations, but knowing how to behave during those close encounters has gotten us through without having to discharge our spray.
And one more thing that we do that has kept us safe through the years is that we NEVER go into the backcountry hoping to photograph a bear. In fact, I know it sounds strange but we really don't want to see a grizzly in the backcountry. We're back there to hike and climb, not to take bear photographs. Hoping to see a bear and attempting to photograph it in the backcountry can only lead to trouble in our opinion. Our steadfast rule is to only purposefully photograph bears from roads.
What is your biggest piece of advice when someone is coming into bear country?
Our biggest piece of advice for anyone hiking in bear country is to avoid surprising a bear by talking really, really loudly while hiking or bushwacking. Most bear attacks are due to a hiker surprising a bear and activating their "fight or flight" instinct. Another piece of advice is to never hike alone. Two hikers are good, three are even better. There is definitely safety in numbers. Of course a third piece of advice is that each person should carry their own bear spray, and have it readily available on their chest or hip, and know exactly how and when to use it.
What does HEY BEAR mean to you and why is it relevant in today's climate?
What we really like about the folks at HEY BEAR is that they understand that humans and bears are stuck with each other, so their goal is to promote the safe and sustainable co-existence between bears and people. Bears are just out there in the wild doing their thing. That's all they know. Bears don't have voices or any other means of standing up for themselves. They are completely at our mercy when it comes to protecting their habitat and their lives. It's "we the people" that need to take full responsibility for the future of these great animals. Forces that threaten their ability to "simply be bears" are what we as humans need to identify and rectify.
Shannon and I feel strongly that people are inherently good and have good intentions, and most people will do the right thing once they know what the right thing is. Therefore education is the answer to this modern day challenge. We must all collectively be the grizzlies' advocate. We must be their voice, and HEY BEAR is doing a fantastic job in doing just that. You guys are helping lead the way to a more sustainable, viable and symbiotic relationship between bears and humans, and we want you to know that we appreciate all that you do. Sharing the wilderness with grizzly bears is in our opinion one of the most beautiful and yet fragile gifts this planet has to offer. We need to preserve and protect this gift forever.