Aggressive Bears Have Forced a Camping Ban Along the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina

Unusually aggressive bears have led to a camping ban along a stretch of the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina this spring. The ban comes amid a flurry of online reports from hikers who have experienced bears stealing food from backpacks and bear canisters, and sometimes even coming right up to tents.

The U.S. Forest Service issued a statement on May 11 that the temporary closure is in place for overnight camping from Tanyard Gap in Hot Springs, about an hour north of Asheville, to Deep Gap in Franklin.

"While backpackers are still permitted to hike through the area, all campsites and shelters are off limits, to include the area surrounding Rich Mountain Fire Tower," the statement reads.

According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, black bears inhabit almost all parts of the Appalachian Trail corridor. However, they tend to be shy animals that keep their distance from humans. Hikers and campers are encouraged to report encounters such as bears entering a campsite or shelter area, stealing food or attempting to steal food, damaging property, as well as other strange or generally aggressive behavior.

The ban is anticipated to end when berries start to come in later this spring.

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"At this point, they're waiting for berry season to come in, and the biologist from the state said it could be like a month until berries come on," Jen Barnhart, U.S. Forest Service district ranger, told USA Today.

Last July, the ATC adopted a new policy recommending that all overnight visitors to the Appalachian Trail carry bear-resistant food storage containers along with their backpacking gear amid a spike in human-bear encounters.

"Black bears along multiple sections of the Appalachian Trail have become increasingly adept at defeating traditional food hangs, where a hiker stores their food over a tree branch using a rope and storage bag,” said Vice President of Regional and Trail Operations Hawk Metheny in a statement.

"This is even when food hangs are done completely right, and sometimes that just isn’t possible depending on where you are camping," Metheny added. "By using a bear-resistant container, hikers are minimizing their chances of a negative bear encounter on the Trail and helping prevent more bears from becoming habituated to humans as a source of food."

The policy likewise established an expanded food storage container lending program to encourage hikers who may not otherwise invest in bear-resistant containers.