The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has temporarily closed the Mt. LeConte Backcountry Shelter out of an abundance of caution due to an increase in aggressive bear activity in the area.

Since October 5, the GSMNP said it has witnessed a series of incidents involving property damage where young male bears attempted to enter buildings with the LeConte Lodge and backcountry shelter in search of food and garbage.

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The park said it has trapped two suspect bears and applied aversive conditioning techniques to deter them from seeking out food in that area. They equipped the bears with GPS collars, saying both have moved well outside the LeConte area.

On Wednesday night, a third bear caused damage by trying to break into the LeConte Lodge where dirty laundry and garbage was being stored for transport. The park said the bear also went into the backcountry shelter and was able to get into a backpack and steal beef jerky. 

"Our staff and the LeConte Lodge staff will attempt to capture the bear responsible for this latest incident and we will continue to monitor the situation and reopen the area as soon as feasible," ranger Dana Soehn said.

The LeConte Lodge itself is still up and running, and there are no restrictions for day hiking in the LeConte area.

People should always read up on how to properly stow and bear-proof any food and trash when heading in or around the park so bears won't seek it out or be able to get to it. You should never leave any food unattended. Bears are incredibly clever scavengers and will follow their strong sense of smell to find the most desirable food they can get their paws on.

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The shelter has been closed many times in the past for black bear activity that warranted caution, such as rangers noticing bears that showed signs of being unusually aggressive and following humans instead of being fearful.

There are bear warnings out for a trails, campsites and a shelter where bears are currently active:  

  • Cosby Knob Shelter

  • Campsites #24, #36, #37, #41, #90 & #95

  • Gatlinburg Trail and Laurel Falls Trail

If you spot a bear, don't approach it and slowly back away increasing distance. If it approaches you, use loud noise to deter it and move to higher ground. 

More tips can be found here.

Black bears are typically shy and docile, and attacks are very rare. These wild creatures are still powerful, agile and capable of seriously hurting someone, though. For your protection as well as the bear's protection, it's important to maintain ample distance if you come across one.

You should never approach a wild bear -- it's not just dangerous, it's illegal to do so willingly in the park.

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TWRA recommendations:

-Never feed or approach bears-- this includes carefully managing sources of human food or garbage to make sure the bears can't access it or aren't attracted to the area. When camping in bear country, keep all food stored in a vehicle and away from tents.

-If you live in a town near black bear habitats, you should not store food, garbage or other recyclables in areas accessible to bears. You also should avoid feeding birds or other wildlife where bears are active.

-Outdoor pets should only be fed a portion they will completely consume, and keeping grills and smokers cleaned and stored securely will also help deter bears.

-If you do encounter a bear, remove whatever attracted the bear to come into your area. There is almost always a safe escape route when bears enter towns. Crowd control is the initial concern as the behavior of a cornered bear can be unpredictable. Immediately report to the TWRA or local police any sightings of bears within areas of human population centers.

-While black bears are usually tolerant of humans, they should always be treated as wild animals, whether in residential or backcountry areas. Black bears are rarely aggressive towards people and typically go out of their way to avoid contact, however as human development continues and bear numbers increase, occasional interactions will be unavoidable.

-If you see a black bear from a distance, alter your route of travel, return the way you came, or wait until it leaves the area. Make your presence known by yelling and shouting at the bear in an attempt to scare it away.

-If approached by a bear, stand your ground, raise your arms to appear larger, yell and throw rocks or sticks until it leaves the area. Never run from a black bear! This will often trigger its natural instinct to chase.

For more information on how to peacefully co-exist with black bears, visit www.tn.gov.