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If the Great Smoky Mountains had an official mascot, there’s no doubt it would be the black bear.
Folks come to the Smokies from all over the world hoping to catch a glimpse of these majestic creatures. But some are luckier than others when they get more than they bargained for … if you want to call it luck.
Genuinely, it’s exciting to spot a black bear when you’re in a car from a safe distance. But when you’re relaxing in the hotel lobby and look up to see a 600-pound black bear, it elicits a different type of response.
And while we always encourage safe black bear viewing in the Smoky Mountains, it’s always fun to hear from visitors about their bear encounters. So, without further ado, here are the best black bear stories from 2020:
5. The trash bandit bear
Anakeesta is a beautiful theme park atop a mountain in downtown Gatlinburg, and as you can probably guess, people aren’t the only ones who enjoy soaking in the high-elevation views.
It’s actually not that unusual to see a black bear within the theme park, which is why this won’t be the last time you see Anakeesta on this list. The staff is probably very used to the sight of black bears by now.
But that doesn’t mean that guests weren’t surprised when a black bear ran past them as it attempted to make a getaway with a bag of trash from the park.
Nathan Rodriguez was able to capture the moment on video.
According to Rodriguez, a member of the kitchen staff at the nearby restaurant had just laid out a bag of trash and turned to grab another bag when the bear made its way to the bottom level of the kitchen.
“The bear didn’t harm anyone as you can see from the video, and obviously was just wanting a quick drive thru meal,” Rodriguez said.
The staff was successfully able to scare away the bear, and it inevitably dropped the bag of trash.
4. The dine and dash bear
Anakeesta is home to a number of delicious restaurants within the park, and it’s no wonder that bears are enticed by the delicious smells.
But when a large bear snuck into Anakeesta’s Smokehouse restaurant one evening, it certainly surprised Tyler Crawford, his girlfriend Sydney Rodrigue and their 7-year-old son Tatum, who caught the moment on video.
“We were sitting down and drinking hot chocolate. We had our backs turned to it and my son said, ‘Look, a bear’ as casually as he could,” said Crawford. “We turned around and there it was!”
In the video, the bear is seen rummaging through a trash can when an employee attempts to scare it away from restaurant guests.
No one was injured during the incident, and the bear eventually fled from the restaurant.
3. The Jeep mangler bear
Blake and Katie Odgers of Atlanta had a beautiful wedding and selected the Smoky Mountains for their honeymoon getaway.
As they were enjoying a relaxing morning in their cabin, they were rudely awakened by the sound of a car horn.
When Blake walked up to the vehicle to investigate, he was surprised to see a large black bear looking back at him after he opened the door.
Blake gave the bear space to evacuate, but after assessing the damage, they suspect that the bear might have been inside the car for hours after accidentally trapping itself inside.
Officer Hunter Finchem answered the couple’s call about the incident. According to Blake, Finchem told them that in all his time of answering calls about bears, he had never seen a vehicle destroyed quite like this.
Even though the exterior looked virtually untouched, the interior leather was torn, the gear shift was damaged and the steering wheel was bitten in half.
The Jeep had to be towed away. The takeaway here? Always lock your car doors.
“Always double check,” said Blake. “Before going to bed, double check to make sure and just be more aware. You’re in the mountains. This is their home, so just expect and prepare for them to be around. Take every precaution then double check, even if you feel you have!”
2. The hotel guest black bear
Joel and Leah Pike traveled to Gatlinburg in hopes of spotting a black bear. They went to Cades Cove, hiked around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and took some scenic drives. But they saw no bears.
And just when they thought it was time to throw in the towel, they looked up a saw a bear in their very own hotel lobby.
“We go in and it’s just me and (Leah) and a young man working the counter,” Joel explained. “About that time the back doors open up and a 400 or 500 pound black bear comes walking in. I said, ‘There’s a black bear.’ But I’m always joking and she didn’t believe me.”
“She said, ‘Oh shut up,’” Joel said. “She came around me and said ‘Oh, it is a black bear.’ And she took off like a scared rabbit.”
Eventually, the bear stepped outside again and the clerk quickly slid over and turned off the electric doors, essentially locking the bear out.
“The next night, it’s like nobody went nowhere,” he said. “They stayed at the hotel and were on bear watch.”
1. The mountain coaster jaywalker bear
I haven’t ridden the mountain coaster at Anakeesta, but I have ridden a few others in the area.
While I can’t say for sure about Anakeesta’s specific mountain coaster, most of the ones that I’ve been on do not fully stop. You can control the speed a bit and slow down, but that’s it.
With that in mind, it seems like something out of a scary movie when you’re strapped to a mountain coaster that is slowly but surely heading straight for a family of black bears.
But that’s exactly what happened to an Anakeesta guest, who can be seen slowly approaching a mama bear and her cubs in a viral Tik Tok video.
And even though black bears in the Smoky Mountains are used to visitors in their home, I imagine bumping into baby bear probably ain’t gonna make mama bear too happy.
A spokesperson for Anakeesta, Michele Canney, told Knox News that while spotting a black bear in the park isn’t out of the ordinary, this behavior was unusually bold for the family of black bears.
“This is a new one to me,” Canney said. “It was something that was unanticipated and to see that happen was a little bit of a surprise.”
Luckily, the bears cleared the path and no one was injured.
Practicing black bear safety within the Great Smoky Mountains
While it’s fun to share these tales when black bears surprise us, it’s important to remember that we are the ones who are guests in their home.
Willfully getting closer than 150 feet, or any distance that disturbs a bear, is illegal within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
“If your presence causes the bear to change its behavior (stops feeding, changes its travel direction, watches you, etc.) you are too close,” reads the NPS.gov website.
If a black bear seems to have taken an interest in you, back away slowly, and do not turn your back to the bear. When you are staying in the Smoky Mountains, always lock up your trash and cars. Never offer food to a bear.
Practicing bear safety is important for the health of both humans and bears.
And if a black bear does surprise you, back away slowly to give the bear space.
Do you have any black bear encounter stories from Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg? Share them in the comments!
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