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April 2000

The Smokies: Backwoods-Style

Here's your insider's guide to The Great Smokies, probably the epitome of a true backpacker's national park.

Changing Bears’ And Campers’ Attitudes

An estimated 1,800 black bears live in the park-that averages out to more than two per square mile-but so far, they haven’t learned to peel back car tops or smash windows like their brethren in Yosemite. In part, that’s because Kim Delozier, the park’s supervising wildlife biologist, is determined to keep the Smokies’ bears from becoming too chummy with the humans.

Over the years, the park has improved visitor education, cleaned up campgrounds, and installed pack suspension devices at every designated backcountry campsite. Last June, a volunteer crew removed a gated chain-link fence that for years spanned the front of the popular Icewater Spring shelter along the Appalachian Trail. The shelter had become an oddly reversed “zoo,” with people caged inside and bears wandering around outside looking for scraps.

Park officials hope that such measures will push an unwanted Smokies species to extinction. “I don’t want to use the word ‘slob,'” says Delozier, “but we have catered to a less than conscientious camper, at times.” If all goes well with the Icewater experiment, he hopes all shelters will become fence-free.

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