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Beware of Great Smoky Mountains National Park's Bears


Black bears in Great Smoky Mountains National Park have been overly aggressive this summer, according to park officials. NPS file photo.

Within its roughly 521,490 acres, Great Smoky Mountains National Park probably harbors about 1,500 black bears, according to the park's biologists. And this summer, those bears have been particularly ornery.

So problematic have the bruins been, that park officials have been warning visitors that they can be fined for getting too close to bears.

Bears are very active in park this year. Several backcountry areas have been closed or posted with warnings due to bear activity. Do not feed or approach bears!

A message on the park's website says some bears have been approaching visitors and "challenging them for them for food. Some of these bears have been extremely bold in attempting to get food."

The problem apparently stems, in part, from a poor berry crop in the park this summer.

While bears can appear quite tame and even cute from a distance, up close they can be not just unpredictable but highly dangerous. Back in May 2000 a 50-year-old woman was killed in the park by a black bear and partially consumed. More recently, a young boy was attacked by a bear while he and his father were hiking along the Rainbow Falls Trail.

Bottom line: Keep your distance from bears in the park -- you can be fined and arrested for willfully coming within 150 feet of a bear -- and keep a clean campsite with food locked out of reach and garbage properly disposed of.

"Feeding bears and improper food storage can result in fines of up to $5,000 and jail sentences lasting up to six months," park officials note.


I was camping in the Smokies in May of 2000 when that woman was killed. She did absolutely everything right; she was an experienced hiker and frequent park visitor. The bear was a sickly mother with a sickly cub. The point is, if this can happen to a visitor who knows how to behave around wildlife, it can certainly happen to a visitor who behaves badly. Bears are beautiful, not cute. They are wild animals, not stuffed toys. Behave responsibly.

I hike throughout the US and eastern Canada and have had brushes with black bears several times.   Only once did one act aggressively, though that may be the wrong word, as the bear seemed mostly curious as to what I was up to.   I stupidly let myself get boxed in by a lake and a cliff, and had to look big and act fearless while the bear inspected me from arms length.  Luckily I passed some test because the bear moved back far enough for me to break contact.   I agree with Smoky, and will add that having a plan in mind for an unavoidable encounter may save your life.

We visited Cades Cove this summer and observed approximately 15 people out of their cars and following a juvenile cub much too close. Some were actually stalking him into the woods. I can understand being curious, but that is stupid. People don't obey the signs and when an attack occurs, the bears are labeled as dangerous and sometimes destroyed.

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