GATLINBURG Tenn. (WATE) — Rich Mountain Road in the Cades Cove area has been closed until further notice because of a close encounter between a visitor in their vehicle and a bear.
According to officials with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the bear had become habituated with humans and vehicles.
The park says the visitor did receive some minor scratches in the incident. Rangers went on to say that visitor did not contribute to the bear’s habituation with humans.
A spokesperson for GSMNP said they do not plan to euthanize the bear as a result of the incident.
The park said the closure started on Saturday, August 5 and will continue until further notice to give the bears in the area on opportunity to eat and forage undisturbed.
“By closing Rich Mountain Road, we are protecting people and bears,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “When people intentionally attract bears with human food or pet food it can lead to a dangerous situation for visitors, local communities and the bears.”
GSMNP says August is a critical time for bears as berries, acorns and other primary food sources are not in season. Because of this, park rangers say bears will often approach vehicles searching for food, and once someone throws food out for the bears or leaves food on the ground, the bear becomes conditioned to the food and the experience.
The park warns that food-conditioned bears may become bold and aggressive in their attempts to obtain human food. Additionally, female bears will teach that dangerous behavior to her cubs.
“Park visitors and residents of local communities can help ensure their safety and the future of black bears by taking responsible steps to prevent bears from becoming conditioned to human food, pet food, and trash. Never intentionally approach, feed, or leave food or trash out for a bear. Do not stop along roadways in the vicinity of bears and always remain 50 yards (150 feet) or more from bears. Photographers should use telephoto lenses. For tips and more information, visit BearWise®, which teaches people how to live and recreate responsibly in bear habitat,” the park said.
Bear incidents or unusual bear activity in the smokies can be reported by calling 865-436-1230.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated.