Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials have closed Mt. LeConte Backcountry Shelter and trails to the popular Cliff Tops area due to bear activity until further notice. At this time, trails leading to the summit of Mt. LeConte remain open, but hikers are strongly encouraged to hike in tight groups of three or more and carry bear spray. Park wildlife staff are currently stationed onsite to monitor the situation.
On Sunday, May 17, one of the park’s Wildlife Technicians encountered an aggressive bear near the trail to Cliff Tops that persistently approached and followed him for 0.3 mile. Loud noises and attempts from the trained ranger to scare the bear did not deter the bear’s repeated threatening advance. The bear followed him to the LeConte Lodge area before retreating into the forest.
“Hiking in bear country requires caution at all times,” said Deputy Superintendent Clay Jordan. “We seldom fully close trail areas, but the unusually aggressive behavior exhibited by this bear warrants action by staff and special precautions by hikers.”
Park officials urge everyone to exercise caution while hiking, camping, and picnicking to ensure their personal safety and to protect bears. Black bears in the park are wild and unpredictable. Though rare, attacks on humans do occur, causing injuries or death. Hikers are always encouraged hike in groups, closely control children, and carry bear spray. Taking these precautions become especially important when a notably aggressive bear is identified by park officials in an area.
Bears should never be fed and all food waste should be properly disposed to discourage bears from approaching people. Feeding, touching, disturbing, and willfully approaching wildlife within 50 yards (150 feet), or any distance that disturbs or displaces wildlife, are illegal in the park. If approached by a bear, visitors should slowly back away to put distance between the animal and themselves, creating space for the animal to pass. If the bear continues to approach, rangers recommend that you stand your ground together as a group and do not run. Hikers should make themselves look large and throw rocks or sticks at the bear. If attacked by a black bear, rangers strongly recommend fighting back with any object available and remember that the bear may view you as prey.
For more information on what to do if you encounter a bear while hiking, please visit the park website at http://www.nps.gov/grsm/naturescience/black-bears.htm. To report a bear incident, please call 865-436-1230.