Peter Scherfig

Peter Scherfig, shown with his wife Katie, was mauled by a grizzly bear while mountain biking in Big Sky, Montana, on Monday.

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On his 61st birthday, Peter Scherfig went mountain biking alone on a trail above Ousel Falls near the Spanish Peaks Mountain Club on Monday. In the early afternoon, a grizzly bear mauled Scherfig, causing severe injuries to his face and neck.

After being taken by an ambulance to Big Sky Medical Center and flown to Billings for further treatment, Scherfig was flown Thursday to Portland, Oregon, where he’s expected to stay for about a month.

“Anyone who’s spent any time in Montana knows it could happen to anybody,” said Debbie Applebaum, a longtime family friend and organizer of a GoFundMe page raising money for Scherfig’s medical costs.

Scherfig remains in critical but stable condition. News of his accident resonated throughout Big Sky and with fellow mountain bikers. To cover medical expenses, especially the cost of being airlifted, the GoFundMe reached and surpassed its goal of $30,000 about 24 hours after it was created. As of Thursday afternoon, more than $35,000 had been raised.

The injuries require major cranial and facial reconstruction, which is expected to be performed in Portland. Scherfig’s jaw is wired shut, Applebaum said based on information relayed to her from his family, and he won’t be able to talk “for a while.”

A puncture in one lung isn’t considered as serious, there are no internal injuries, two ribs are his only broken bones and Scherfig has no brain damage because he was wearing a helmet.

In a message to friends and family, Scherfig’s wife Katie referred to him as the “toughest person I know.”

Scherfig has lived in Big Sky for 40 years and was a teacher at Ophir Elementary School. The avid athlete’s children grew up in the area and still live nearby.

“It has touched everybody so much,” Applebaum said. “People that don’t even know him, the story has touched their hearts.”

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks considers the incident a surprise encounter, said spokesman Morgan Jacobsen. Since the bear’s behavior was considered normal and not predatory, FWP didn’t try to find the bear.

“Very commonly grizzly bears act defensively in surprise close encounters with humans,” Jacobsen said. “It appears that’s what happened in this case.”

The Peter Scherfig Benefit Fund was formed at First Security Bank to also collect money for his medical expenses. The GoFundMe reached as many people as it has, Applebaum said, because they shared the link frequently on Facebook.

“It’s a very generous community we live in,” Applebaum said. “They stepped up to the plate quickly.”

Melissa Cronin, a Southwest Montana Mountain Bike Association board member, said being aware of bears is important for trail users, especially at this time of year when they are waking up from hibernation and seeking water sources.

The trail Scherfig was on is one of the most popular trails in Big Sky, Cronin said. Still, Jacobsen recommends carrying bear spray, making noise and traveling in groups.

“These types of incidents serve as a reminder for everyone who recreates outside in Montana that Montana is bear country,” Jacobsen said.

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Paul Schwedelson can be reached at pschwedelson@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2670. Follow him on Twitter @pschweds.