The beautiful and majestic black bear is a creature native to the Great Smoky Mountains. While tourists and land development have encroached upon their homes, the bears have learned how to live with the hustle and bustle of nearby Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge and flourish in the area. In fact, scientists estimate that there are about 1,500 bears living in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The local rangers and residents in the area go to great lengths to ensure that both humans and bears are kept safe from the dangers they impose on one another. Bear-proof trash cans are required at all Gatlinburg cabins, and rangers have put up to $5,000 dollar fines in place for improper food storage and feeding the black bears. It is also a federal violation to willfully approach within 50 yards of a bear in the National Park.
So, what do you do if you see a bear? Luckily, bears are relatively peaceful creatures and, while extremely dangerous, there have only been two fatal bear attacks in Tennessee since 2000. This blog contains some helpful tips and guidelines to help keep you and your family safe if you are lucky enough to spot one of these beautiful creatures on your Gatlinburg vacation.
Rule #1: Don’t feed the bears!
Besides possibly resulting in a hefty fine, feeding black bears is as dangerous for them as it is for you. Food conditioned black bears decrease their life expectancy by half, and food conditioned bears often lose their fear of humans, resulting in increased attacks. Bears can also perish from ingesting food wrappers and plastic, so please help keep the bears safe! Properly store your food indoors, throw away your food in safe containers and never willingly feed a bear.
Rule #2: Never run from a bear encounter.
While this may be your first instinct, fleeing from a bear encounter may cause the bear to view you as prey and the bear may chase after you. Bears can run, climb and swim much faster than you can, so if you encounter a bear, it is best to face the bear and back away slowly. If stepping away from the animal proves fruitless, begin yelling, banging objects together, and appear as large as possible with your arms over your head. The more aggressive you act and the more noise you make, the more likely the bear is to decide that he’s better off other places.
Rule #3: Carry bear pepper spray while hiking.
The smells of food in the woods often attract wild black bears, so it is best to have a backup plan if you are considering going hiking for any length of time in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Bear pepper spray can be purchased at many hiking stores surrounding the park and is legal to carry on your hiking trip. The spray can reach up to 32 feet and will certainly deter a bear from approaching you any further.
Rule #4: Keep pets and children safe and travel in large numbers.
Keep your furry friends and children as close by as possible any time you are in the National Park. Bears may mistake pets for easy prey and may increase your chances of attack if not kept closely restrained. In addition, statistics show that the more people in your group, the less likely you are to experience a bear attack.
If you have an encounter with an aggressive bear, please report to a National Park ranger as soon as possible and dial 911 to report the incident. It is not uncommon for trails in the National Park to be closed due to aggressive bear activity, so please help keep everyone safe and do your part while on your Gatlinburg vacation.