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Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials closed several miles of trail yesterday to let local black bears feast in peace. Hikers are temporarily prohibited from segments of the Gatlinburg and the Twin Creeks trails, where a high concentration of bears are feeding on acorns, according to a statement from the park. The trails will be closed until further notice.
The park has also issued bear warnings for several open areas in the park where there is increased bear activity. Hikers on the Fighting Creek Nature Trail, the Cove Mountain Trail, at the Packs Corner Shelter, Double Springs Gap Shelter, and at campsite #113 should be cautious.
“Bears depend on fall foods such as acorns and grapes to store fat reserves that enable them to survive the winter,” park officials stated. “Generally bears are solitary, however, during the fall, several bears may be seen feeding in close proximity.”
According to the park, it’s not uncommon for black bears to flock to where food is abundant, such as the stands of oak trees found along the Gatlinburg and Twin Creeks trails. Black bears are typically harmless to humans, but may display aggression in order to defend precious food sources like berries and nuts.
The period of fattening up before winter is known as hyperphagia, when bears must find and consume excess calories, eating and drinking nearly nonstop. During this phase, bears are likely to travel outside of their typical ranges, and may be more likely to approach trails, campgrounds, and other places where humans are.
In late summer and fall, hikers in bear country should be especially wary. Bears are opportunistic eaters, so be sure to properly store all food in bear-proof containers. Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials encourage hikers not to approach black bears. Shout at a bear if it approaches you, and distance yourself from any food it shows an indication of wanting.
About 1,500 bears live in the park, which is one of the largest protected swaths of black bear habitat in the eastern U.S. Hikers can call (865) 436-1297 for current trail and campground information.