Rangers have closed miles of trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park after an increase in aggressive behavior from bears. The park's black bears are currently in hyperphagia – a period of near constant eating as they lay on fat stores to help them survive hibernation. During this time they can become easily aggravated if they believe their food source is threatened, so officials have decided to close their feeding areas to the public, allowing them to eat undisturbed.
"Along a couple of the trails in these areas, we have had instances over the last week where people have gotten too close to those feeding areas," Dana Soehn, a spokesperson for Great Smoky Mountains National Park, told WVLT News.
“Those bears have bluff charged, putting the visitors at risk and disrupting that natural [...] behavior."
Rangers have also issued warnings for many parts of the park that remain open. The warnings and closures will remain in place until further notice, so if you're planning a trip to the Smokies, check for updates on the NPS website and observe any signs posted in the park.
"Bears depend on fall foods such as acorns and grapes to store fat reserves that enable them to survive winter," said the NPS in a statement. "Bears move around a lot during the fall looking for acorns, with some traveling more than 30 miles to feed in a particular stand of oak trees. Generally bears are solitary, however, during the fall, several bears may be seen feeding in close proximity."
How to stay safe
Bear attacks are rare, but if you do come across a black bear, it's important to resist the temptation to run, which may make the animal see you as prey and give chase. If the bear hasn't seen you, keep yourself hidden and back away, aiming to stay downwind of the bear.
If you've been spotted, talk to it in a calm, consistent voice while holding your arms over your head to make yourself look bigger, and back away slowly. For more advice, see our guide what to do if you meet a bear.
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Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 13 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better).