A mountain lion sighting at Woodward Park in northeast Fresno forced a temporary closure and full evacuation of the park Thursday. The park was eventually reopened after officials were unable to find any signs of the big cat.
The animal was reported to be near the BMX track on the park’s northwest side. As a precaution, city officials closed the park to all visitors around 11:30 a.m.
Police searched the area and warned park visitors. A police helicopter assisted with the search.
Park staff, police and California Fish and Wildlife rangers searched the park for about an hour. It was reopened around 12:45 p.m. after a final sweep by officials ruled the park safe.
Fresno police Lt. Joe Gomez said a woman photographed the mountain lion near the BMX park but left the area before police could get more information. Gomez said an officer familiar with the area recognized the animal, which is believed to be around 85 pounds and lives near the river to the north of Woodward.
Gomez said the animal presented a danger and advised anyone who sees it to leave immediately.
Gomez said bobcats are often seen in the area, but a mountain lion – especially of this size – is rare.
“This park encroaches on their territory, so this kind of thing does happen,” he said.
Fish and Wildlife rangers were prepared to tranquilize the mountain lion and return it to its home if it’s spotted again.
Fleet Feet Sports Fresno is scheduled to host its Resolution Run at Woodward Park beginning at 9 a.m. Friday. Karyn Nicholson of Fleet Feet said that race will go on as planned unless parks and recreation employees tell her otherwise.
The only other known report of a mountain lion in Woodward Park happened in November 2009. Visitors then reported seeing a lion at the park’s northeast boundary, near Lewis S. Eaton Overlook. The sighting was never confirmed.