Portion of AT in Cherokee NF Closed to Camping Due to Bear Activity

A stretch of the Appalachian Trail in northern Tennessee near the Virginia border has been closed to camping “due to multiple reports of aggressive bear activity and evidence of bears entering campsites and taking food,” the US Forest Service announced in a news release on June 2nd.

The closure affects 13 miles of trail from Double Springs Shelter (mile 451 according to the Forest Service) to the intersection with Backbone Rock Side Trail (mile 464). Abingdon Gap Shelter and McQueen Knob Shelter, which are in this section, will also be closed to the public. Although overnight stays are banned throughout the section until further notice, the trail will remain open for day users, including thru-hikers.

This is not the first time AT shelters have been closed due to bear activity. Cosby Knob Shelter in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Guthook mile 231) has been closed since early April of this year, when a bear ripped through a hiker’s tent and stole food. A 17-mile section of trail in southern Virginia, including Grayson Highlands State Park and Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, was temporarily closed in 2018, while Tennessee’s Watauga Lake Shelter (mile 428.7) was permanently closed and disassembled in 2019 following six years of temporary closures and persistent bear activity.

Cherokee National Forest requires all visitors to store or dispose of food, trash, and other smellable items properly. This requirement protects the lives of bears and humans alike. Although bears are typically not aggressive toward humans, individuals that have become habituated to human food pose a threat to the public because they may enter campsites and approach humans in search of food. Habituated bears are often euthanized, hence the saying “a fed bear is a dead bear.”

The Forest Service recommends the following procedures to reduce the risk of a close bear encounter:

  • Never leave food or trash unattended.
  • Never cook or store food in or near your tent.
  • Hang food and anything with strong odors (toothpaste, bug repellent, soap, etc.) at least 12 feet off the ground and 6 feet from a tree or limb, or use special food storage canisters and cable systems if available.
  • Keep a clean site by properly disposing of garbage including fruit rinds and cores, empty cans or jars and aluminum foil used for grilling or cooking.
  • Never feed a bear or other animals.
  • Never approach a bear.
  • If a bear approaches your site, pack up your food and trash.  If necessary, attempt to scare the animal away with loud shouts, or by banging pans together.  If the bear is persistent, move away slowly to your vehicle or other secure area.
  • Keep children close at hand.
  • Keep pets properly confined to a leash or in a vehicle or camper.
  • Always respect bears and admire them from a distance.

Featured image via.

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Comments 2

  • Cosmo A Catalano : Jun 11th

    Sites and Trail segments closed, shelters dismantled. Clearly hikers are not storing their food so that bears can’t get to it. Approved bear canisters or properly secured and approved food bags would soon resolve the issues. Bears won’t hang around if there’s no food to eat. This is a hiker problem, not a bear problem.

  • David Fisher : Jun 11th

    I agree. This is a lazy campers problem. Keep your site clean and neat. Make it a major obstacle for a bear to have to work to get to your food stuffs. Bears are creatures of easy access. They will move on.


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