Gatlinburg trails closed after bears ‘bluff charge’ hikers

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) – Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced Wednesday that they would be closing some trails in Gatlinburg after reported bear activity.

Dana Soehn, a representative with the park, told WVLT News the trails were closed due to increased “bluff charges.”

“Along a couple of the trails in these areas, we have had instances over the last week where people have gotten too close to those feeding areas,” Soehn said. “Those bears have bluff charged, putting the visitors at risk and disrupting that natural heat behavior.”

Soehn said bluff charging is something bears do to scare off humans entering their area, and while the bear normally backs off, things can go wrong when people push the bear further.

These incidents are largely in part to the bears finding areas to gather and eat while visitors walking close by.

“People have gotten too close to the bears feeding area,” said Soehn.

Because of this, bears are using a “bluff charge” as a way to defend the area they’re eating in.

The affected routes are the Gatlinburg Trail between Gatlinburg and Sugarlands Visitor Center and the Twin Creeks Trail between Gatlinburg and the Twin Creeks Science and Education Center. Both trails are due to close because of a “large concentration of black bears feeding on acorns.”

Bears can eat for up to 12 hours a day according to Soehn, who added that it’s part of the reason why the trails remain closed. Once bears start eating, they can be there for a while as acorns continue to be spotted along the closed trails.

Soehn said October is one of the busiest times of the year, while coinciding with the season where bears are out looking for food the most. It’s a good reminder that if you see a bear, you shouldn’t approach it.

“Simply backing up slowly to create that space so a bear doesn’t feel threatened,” said Soehn.

The move comes just days after a man was injured in Gatlinburg after a bear broke into a rented cabin. “Generally bears are solitary, however, during the fall, several bears may be seen feeding in close proximity,” officials said.

The trails will be closed until further notice. Here’s what to do if you see a bear.

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