GATLINBURG, Tenn. — What was supposed to be a peaceful summer afternoon at Cades Cove turned into one of shock and disgust, as a group of horrified onlookers watched a momma bear charge a park visitor who confronted her family multiple times. 

Onlooker Paige Marple originally got out her phone to get footage of the bears, but ended up recording every moment of an encounter she expected to turn tragic any moment.

"I honestly thought we were going to sit there and just watch him get mauled," Marple told 10News. 

Momma bear lunges at man who gets too close
Paige Marple

In the video, you can faintly hear the unidentified man making tsk tsk tsk sounds at the bears as he inches closer towards the cubs. 

"I don't even know where he came from, but he saw them and started walking in between our truck and the car towards the cubs," Marple said.

The cubs avoided the man at first, and Marple doesn't think the momma bear saw him approach her cubs that first time around because a car was blocking her view. 

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"He's fortunate she was in front instead of behind," Marple said. "Because had she seen him the first time I really think it could have been worse."

But once the bears reached the other side of the car, the video shows the man running to confront her family yet again. 

That's when the momma bear lunged at him. 

"I guess he pointed his finger to the field....I'm assuming to make her go back, but that third cub was still behind the other two and she lunged," Marple recounted. 

Marple and other onlookers were horrified to see the interaction. 

"I honestly thought me and everybody else parked in that parking lot were about to be traumatized for the rest of our lives," Marple said. "I really thought she was about to attack him."

The video also shows the man asking Marple, "Did you see that?" immediately after the encounter, while the bears still linger close by. 

Black bears cross the road at Cades Cove
Paige Marple

Marple said that's when the crowd began to lob obscenities at him, telling him he was an idiot among other vulgarities.  "There were people on the other side telling him he was an idiot," Marple said. "I wasn't going to interfere. You can't stop stupidity." 

She also said it was unclear if the man was with other people at Cades Cove or alone.  And because he was situated right next to Marple's truck everyone, even park rangers who came to investigate the situation, assumed the man accompanied her and her brother. 

"They actually thought he was with us," Marple said. "[The rangers] watched the video. And the look on their face said more than what their mouth could when they saw her charge at him."

Marple said the incident didn't just scare her, it also made her mad. 

 "The people who are locals...everybody knows to stay in the car!" Marple said. 

While the situation that went down at Cades Cove on Saturday afternoon could have turned deadly for the man, it's also problematic for the momma bear and her family because it's dangerous for bears to get conditioned to the behavior of humans. 

It puts the animals in greater danger of being put down.  

Even "friendly" interactions with bears can prove perilous for them.  Just last June, a gregarious black bear beloved by the town and calm enough to take selfies with people was shot and killed by officials in Oregon because it was too unafraid of humans. 

It's key, say officials, to leave these animals in peace. 

TWRA offers these tips for people living or vacationing in bear country:

  • Never feed or approach bears.
  • Do not store food, garbage or recyclables in areas accessible to bears.
  • Remove bird feeders where bears are active.
  • Feed outdoor pets a portion size that will be completely consumed during each meal and securely store pet foods.
  • Keep grills and smokers clean and stored in a secure area when not in use.
  • Talk to family and neighbors when bear activity is occurring in your area.

For more Smokies bear stories: 

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