Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials closed the Spence Field Backcountry Shelter after 49-year-old Bradley Veeder of Las Vegas was bitten by a bear while sleeping in his tent near the shelter. On Tuesday, May 10, 2016 at approximately 11:16 p.m., the park was notified through Graham County 911 services that Veeder, an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, was bitten by a bear on his lower leg through his tent. The bear was scared from the area before Veeder or other backpackers saw it.
All backcountry campers gathered in the Spence Field Backcountry Shelter for the remainder of the night. The bear did return later to the area where it tore through Veeder’s vacant tent along with another vacant tent. The bear was not seen by any of the backpackers in the area. Park wildlife staff are currently stationed onsite to monitor the area for bear activity.
On May 11, Veeder was transported out of the backcountry by horseback and taken to Blount Memorial Hospital by Rural Metro Ambulances Service at approximately 3:45 p.m.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Photo: Brian Stansberry (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons