CARTER COUNTY, Tenn. - A portion of the Cherokee National Forest is temporarily closed for day use and camping because of bear encounters in the area.
We've learned it's an in-between season for the bears and they're looking for the easiest meal they can find, so its time for us humans to become 'bear aware'.
The Cherokee National Forest that surrounds Watauga Lake is one of the prettiest spots along the Appalachian Trail. The trail crosses through the area and runs right along the lake.
But now signs are up closing part of the area to day use, although through hikers on the trail can still use it. "People can hike through the area. It's about a three-mile stretch and it's pretty safe to just keep walking through. I've already received calls from Appalachian Trail hikers to ask for clarification on this closure and where they can camp and what are the limitations for the Oliver Hollow area," said Alice Cohen, recreation manager for the Cherokee National Forest.
The reason for the closure is black bears that are looking for food, specifically human food. "What we're seeing is bears are looking for human food. What people don't realize is what we say, "feed a bear, kill a bear." Bears can become habituated to human food very readily," she says.
There's another reason -- this is the in-between season for the bears food sources. "We're kind of between berry season and acorn season. As soon as acorns ripen up and they smell tasty for [bears], then they'll head up to the acorns on higher ground," Cohen said.
It may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience to encounter a black bear in the wild, but that's the point -- it's a wild animal. So what should you do if you happen across one? "Allow the bear to go on its way. Generally bears are scared of people and one reason we are closing this area is that bears may be habituated to people at this point we're not sure of that," she said.
Make some noise and give the bear some room. Walk away, don't run. And if it's after your food, give it up.
Here are some more bear awareness tips for you: Never leave unattended food, pet food or garbage outside.
Don't feed the birds between April and November unless your feeder is bear-proof.
Clean your cooking grill.
The National Forest Service has more tips for you on their website. Click here more more information.