The Cherry Branch-Minnesott Beach Ferry may have a solution to its toll issues — bear watching tours.
Ferry passengers and crews got an unusual sight Monday afternoon when a black bear swam across the Neuse River.
According to Sue Kinner, six ferries Monday afternoon passed a 300- to 400-pound black bear as it swam the channel from Pamlico County to Craven County.
“He was the star attraction,” said Kinner, operations manager at the crossing. “We probably could have sold tickets like dolphin tours if we could have. That’s how we’ll make our toll money.”
The ferry departing Minnesott Beach at 2:30 p.m. first encountered the bear just offshore from Camp Seagull. Kinner said the bear needed about an hour to swim about two miles across the river to Craven County. Had the bear taken the ferry, the trip would have taken about 20 minutes, and probably been a lot less tiring.
Passengers got out of their cars and lined the rails of the ferries to watch the bear as it paddled across the river.
“He was just outside of the channel,” Kinner said. “I think there was a point there when they had to dodge him because he was right in the channel. He swam across in our channel just like he was following our aids to navigation.”
Kinner said workers stood on the bluff by the ferry office at Cherry Branch watching for the bear with binoculars between ferry trips.
“It was entertainment,” Kinner said. “When you work on a boat all day long, you look for anything different to brighten your day.”
Crewman Carlos Kowalczewski photographed the bear with his phone.
“He was going fast,” Kowalczewski said. “He was big too. He wasn’t a puppy.”
Kowalczewski said he had never seen a bear like that in the water except in a zoo.
“We see a lot of weird stuff,” he said. “I’m glad that we get to see all this wildlife around here. The only thing I regret was that the Arapahoe Charter School kids couldn’t see it from the bus.”
Kinner said the bear eventually made it to shore on a sandy beach just west of the ferry dock and went into the woods near the Cherry Branch housing development.