KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials have reopened Twin Creeks Trail, Noah Bud Ogle Cabin, and the Noah Bud Ogle Nature Trail to all use.
The areas do have a bear warning posting in place to remind visitors to remain cautious of bear activity.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials have temporarily some trails and other locations due to bear activity.
Twin Creeks Trail, Noah Bud Ogle Cabin, and the Noah Bud Ogle Nature Trail have all been closed until further notice. Cherokee Orchard Road was closed earlier Thursday, but is expected to open Friday morning.
Two women encountered a bear near the Noah Bud Ogle Cabin at around 10:30 a.m. Thursday while hiking on the nature trail.
The women attempted to allow the bear space to pass by backing down the trail, but the bear persistently approached and followed one of the women for up to a half mile.
Loud noises and attempts from the woman to scare the bear using rocks and sticks did not deter the bear’s advance. The bear followed the woman all the way to Cherokee Orchard Road where she found safety in a vehicle.
"This is a very significant bear incident and we are closing the trail areas to ensure that we can assess trail safety before reopening the area,” said Acting Superintendent Cindy MacLeod. “We advise all hikers in the park to be extremely cautious of bears, especially during this time of year when natural foods are scarce.”
Earlier Thursday, park officials closed Gregory Bald and nearby trails including Gregory Bald Trail and Wolf Ridge Trail from Parson Bald to Gregory Bald. The closure is necessary to both protect bears and hikers.
At least a dozen bears are concentrated on Gregory Bald feeding on ripe cherries. The situation has led to several close encounters between hikers and bears creating an unacceptable safety risk. Wildlife biologists will be monitoring the area and expect the bears to disperse when the food source has been depleted.
“We regret the inconvenience to park visitors who were looking forward to a hike to Gregory Bald,” said Acting Superintendent Cindy MacLeod. “However, we feel this temporary closure is necessary to ensure the bears have an opportunity to feed undisturbed on natural foods and also to protect our visitors from defensive bear behavior.”
According to Park Wildlife Biologist, Bill Stiver, bears throughout the park are underweight and stressed this year following a very harsh winter and a low acorn supply last autumn. Park officials urge everyone to exercise caution while hiking, camping, and picnicking to ensure their personal safety and protect bears. Black bears in the park are wild and unpredictable. Though rare, attacks on humans do occur, causing injuries or death. Hikers are encouraged to hike in groups of three or more, closely control children, and keep their hiking groups together.
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 followed by a bear, rangers recommend that you stand your ground and 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.