KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Following multiple reports of aggressive bear activity and evidence of bears going into campsites and taking food, the U.S. Forest Service has made the decision to close a portion of the Appalachian Trail to camping until further notice.

The approximately 8 miles of trail between Double Springs Shelter and the intersection with Backbone Rock Side Trail along with the McQueen’s Knob Shelter and Abingdon Gap Shelter will still be open to hiking. The portion of the trail runs through Cherokee National Forest near the Tennessee-Virginia border.

Forest Service officials are also warning visitors to be on the lookout for black bears and be BearWise. In addition, they remind visitors that the Cherokee National Forest’s Forest Order prohibits possessing or leaving food, bear attractant, or refuse unless stored properly.

Black bears are opportunistic and will feed on whatever is readily available. Food odors and improperly stored garbage will attract bears to campsites and picnic areas.

Though bears are naturally afraid of humans, bears who eat human food can begin to associate human scents with the reward of food, eventually becoming a threat to humans, property, and themselves.

To reduce the chances of a close encounter with a bear while camping:

  • Never feed a bear or other animals.
  • Never approach a bear.
  • 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.
  • Keep a clean site by properly disposing of garbage
  • 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 another 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.