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Black Bear Treasures in the Smokies
by Maxine Sommers

Deep in the heart of Tennessee stands the magnificent Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If you and your family are looking for a grand vacation destination along with a first-hand view of splendid wildlife, this park—on a scale of 1 to 10—ranks right up there as a firm 10. Mother Nature at her absolute best.

Between 8 to 10 million people visit the park each year, making it the most visited national park in the country. The national park official website provides a large amount of information and images regarding the whole park area. Log on and view the two “Live Cams” for an eagle's eye view of the Smokies along with information on park news, science information, trip planning and a park bookstore.

Consider the following activities: camping, hiking, bicycling, fishing, horseback riding and picnicking. View historic log buildings, waterfalls, majestic towering trees and gorgeous wild flowers.

There are also back roads that offer a slow drive to some of the peaceful and secluded sections of the park if you are not in the mood to hike or walk. There are so many options visitors are bound to find something that will be perfect.

The park is a grand sanctuary for a wide selection of animals. The area covers one of the widest tracts of wilderness in the Eastern part of the United States. There are 200 species of birds, 66 species of mammals and 75 kinds of reptiles and amphibians.

As you travel through the park, be on the lookout for raccoons, deer, wild turkey, coyote, elk or black bears. As a matter of interest, there are approximately 1,500 bears living in the forested area of the park, each one of whom is especially fascinating to the visitors. When you are in the park, federal regulations make it illegal to disturb the wild life. The rules state, “Willfully approaching within 150 feet or any distance that disturbs or displaces elk or bear is prohibited.”

Keep in mind that even though the bears in the park are called “Black Bears” the color of the big bruins range from coal black to dark or light brown. An imposing bear, who is by no means a small animal, can weigh in at several hundred pounds depending on its sex and age.

As you walk through the forest keep a sharp eye out for bears since they have the remarkable ability to sit or stand quietly and blend in among the trees and the underbrush.

This same rock-still bear can appear to be part of the landscape until it decides to move — at that moment you realize you are looking at a 300 to 400 pound really B. I. G. wild animal who can, when standing up on its back legs, top out at six feet tall. Downright impressive if you happen to witness this astonishing sight. On occasion the bear has an interesting way of turning its head slightly to one side which gives the impression it is looking at you with just one eye — a piercing look that will get your attention. Remember black bears are wild animals and, while not normally aggressive, they can be dangerous if threatened or cornered.

If you see a bear, do not approach it. Even though they can sometimes appear to be cuddly creatures they are wild animals and getting too close to one may cause aggressive behavior. Such as: swatting the ground, making loud noises, or the most disconcerting—running toward you. The animal is demonstrating it wants more space and this is definitely not the time to argue about that! Do not run … slowly back away.

Bears forage for berries, seeds, insects, acorns and nuts during the autumn. This is the most important part of the bear’s life. A weight gain of from 3 to 5 pounds per day takes place in order to gain enough to take them through the winter and spring. In October or November the bears slip into a deep sleep but do not become totally dormant. In January or February the young females who have not had cubs previously usually give birth to one cub. The next year the females can give birth to up to five cubs.

Females and their cubs usually come out of their dens in late April. Females without cubs and males may leave their dens earlier. Once out, the bear family often stays near the den for a short time while getting over the effects of their long winter nap. Bear cubs usually leave their mothers after one and a half years. By that time they are self-sufficient and ready to strike out on their own.

Bears are talented scavengers. Consequently, park backpackers need to keep stored food hung ten feet above the ground and four feet from the nearest tree trunk, since bears have strong acrobatic skills and can turn and twist like a pretzel when attempting to reach into a container or across a distance to snatch food. Many park campsites are equipped with pulley and cable systems that make hanging food easy.

The park is now equipped with bear-proof garbage cans and dumpsters —this new method of disposing of trash is a great improvement. Leaving food for the animals to eat is bad for them since they do not survive as long as animals which eat natural food found in the forest. Trash receptacles can be found at campgrounds, picnic areas and visitor centers.

When all is said and done, visitors are encouraged to follow the “pack it in —and pack it out” philosophy. A small price to pay for an exciting adventure while trekking over the terrain and viewing the wildlife in the splendid outdoors of Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

Try it … you will love it!


A Texan and veteran travel writer, Maxine Sommers may be reached at this e-mail address: CLICK HERE

Please write Sommers for permission to reprint this article.

~ Read more of her travel articles at USADEEPSOUTH ~
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