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Boater catches bear frolicking in cool waters of Illinois River

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BEARDSTOWN — Even bears sometimes need a swim in the heat — at least one near Beardstown did as it crossed the Illinois River.

A brown bear crossing the waterway Sunday was spotted by a Utah man and his brother as they traveled the river on a trek around the country.

Paul Bates of St. George, Utah, captured the bear on video as he was passing on the Illinois River near Beardstown; he was shocked to see the animal in the water.

"You could see his head and body in the water," Bates said. "We were just cruising along and we saw something come across the water really fast."

Bates said his brother grabbed his binoculars and was surprised to see the bear moving through the water toward shore.

The brothers, who are doing the Great America Loop, have been traveling waterways from Alabama, up the East Coast, across the Great Lakes and down to the Mississippi River — nearly 6,000 miles of waterways. They moved closer to the bear to video it and get a better look.

"It was swimming east to west, but when it saw us and heard our engines, it turned and headed back to the other shore," Bates said. "We were within a couple miles of the (Logsdon) tow yard. It wasn't a very populated area. You could see RVers and some sporadic campsites, but that was it."

Bates said they moved closer but didn't want to get too close and stress the bear out, instead letting it finish its swim in peace as they passed.

Though not too familiar with bears, Bates said the bear looked like it was a juvenile about 200 pounds.

The trip along the waterways has given the brothers many interesting sights, including other wildlife.

"We saw a couple of bald eagles perched along the banks," Bates said. "But this is the first time I've ever seen a bear outside a zoo ... it was so weird seeing him there, for sure. I wish we could have gotten a better picture and video, but we didn't want to stress him out."

This is not the first bear that has been spotted recently in west-central Illinois.

Areas such as Dallas are weeks behind the average pace for first 100-degree day, which will arrive soon as smothering heat blankets the Central states.

A black bear has been seen in Madison County with reports of one being seen in LaVista Park in Godfrey — about 60 miles south of Jacksonville — earlier this week.

Reports of a bear in southern Illinois also have been made.

A report about the bear crossing the river in Beardstown was not made to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Conservation Police.

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