GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE) — Rich Mountain Road in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has reopened after a month-long closure, according to a release from the park. The closure started in August after park visitor being scratched by a bear.

The National Park Service reopened the road after the closure gave the black bears in the area safe access to forage for necessary, natural foods, the release said.

According to GSMNP, August can be a difficult months for bears to find natural food as bear season has passed and fall acorns had not ripened yet. Limiting human activity in the Rich Mountain Road area allowed the bears in the area time to find natural food and begin transitioning to the fall acorn crop.

“Too often, visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and residents of nearby communities feed human or dog food to bears, sometimes directly from vehicles and by leaving food in the road. This illegal and dangerous behavior causes bears to become conditioned to unnatural food, as well as people and vehicles. Over time, food-conditioned bears may become bold and aggressive in their attempts to obtain human food.” GSMNP said.

Park visitors and residents of local communities can help ensure their own safety and the safety of the bears by taking responsible stops to prevent the bears from becoming conditioned to human food, pet food, and trash. The park says residents and park visitors should:

  • Always provide bears ample space and allow them the opportunity to feed as part of their natural behavior.   
  • Never intentionally approach or feed bears or inadvertently leave food or trash out for bears.   
  • Lock car doors   
  • Do not stop along roadways in the vicinity of bears.  
  • Always remain 50 yards (150 feet) or more from bears.   
  • Photographers should use telephoto lenses.  

Bear incidents or unusual bear activity in the smokies can be reported at 865-436-1230, GSMNP said. To learn more information and tips about living and recreating responsibly in bear habitat, visit BearWise.