Upstate residents visiting the mountains this fall may want to keep an eye out for black bears, not foliage.
Caitlin Worth, a public affairs officer for the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, said an alert will remain in effect for the 469-mile scenic highway and its campgrounds through the remainder of the fall season due to increased black bear activity. The alert was issued in June by the National Park Service.
“Bears are very active along the parkway at this time,” the alert says. “Bears are wild animals that are dangerous and unpredictable. Do not approach bears or allow them to approach you!”
Worth said bear sightings are common during the fall foliage season, when an estimated 2 million tourists visit the Blue Ridge Parkway to watch the leaves transform from shades of green to autumn hues.
Bears in North Carolina also tend to become more active in the fall as they prepare for colder weather and search for food, according to Worth. While bears don’t truly hibernate during the winter months, they usually put on weight before locating a den and entering a long period of sleep.
Campers and picnickers should store food, coolers, utensils, cookstoves, and other scented items in a closed vehicle or bear-proof container, according to Worth. They should also keep their areas clean by picking up food scraps and disposing of all garbage in a secure trash can or dumpster.
Worth said feeding bears or allowing them access to human food and garbage can cause them to lose their instinctive fear of people. These bears may begin approaching people in search of food and become more unpredictable and dangerous, damaging property and injuring campers and hikers.
Studies have shown bears that lose their fear of people by obtaining human food and garbage never live as long as bears that feed on natural foods and are shy and afraid of people, according to the National Park Service. Many are hit by cars and become easy targets for poachers.
If a bear enters a campsite or picnic area, visitors should give the animal space and not feed it, according to Worth. Federal regulations state that willfully approaching a bear within 50 yards or any distance that disturbs or displaces a bear is illegal along the parkway.
Park rangers patrol picnic areas and campgrounds to enforce regulations, according to the National Park Service. Citations can result in fines of up to $5,000 and jail sentences lasting up to six months.
Worth said parkway visitors should stay calm and stand their ground if approached by a black bear instead of screaming or running away, which may cause the bear to attack. If an attack does occur, however, visitors should try to escape to a secure place, act aggressively, or fight back.
For more information, visit www.nps.gov.
5 Tips for Hiking Safely in Bear Country
Source: U.S. Forest Service
- Hike during daylight hours. Bears are most active during early morning and late afternoon hours.
- Watch for tracks, scat, and tree markings left by bears.
- Never let your small children run ahead or wander.
- Make noise to avoid surprising a bear.
- Carry and know how to use bear spray, which is available at many outdoor retailers.