Great Smoky Mountains Natl. Park — Officials with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are recommending against using tents and soft-sided shelters at the Elkmont Campground until further notice after a bear ripped into a tent in search of food early Sunday morning, June 12.
An alert posted on Recreation.gov said a 3-year-old girl and her mother received superficial scratches to their heads, but the father was able to eventually scare the bear from the site.
Officials said that the family of five was sleeping in their tent with their dog. The bear ripped into the tent at around 5:20 a.m. on Sunday, scratching the girl and her mother. The father was able to scare the bear from the tent and campsite after several attempts, officials said.
The family told the campground office about the incident and left to find medical attention, according to a release from officials.
Wildlife biologists said they were monitoring the area. Sites K1-4, K6, K7 & K11; L1-7 in the Elkmont Campground K/L-Loops were temporarily closed for the safety of visitors. The rest of the campground was still open.
While monitoring the area, they said the male bear entered the campsite where the incident occurred. They said it showed food-conditioned behavior and did not fear humans, entering the area without weariness.
They said they captured the bear and euthanized it on Monday.
It weighed around 350 pounds, which officials said is not usual for this time of the year. They said the bear could have previous and consistent access to non-natural food sources.
The park said camping in bear country is inherently risky, and it is critical all campers follow food storage regulations and bear safety guidelines. They said incidents between people and bears tend to peak in late May and June when natural foods like berries are not yet available.
Visitors can report bear sightings to campground staff or by calling park dispatch at 865-436-1230.
All food and equipment used to prepare and store food (stoves, pots, coolers, etc.) must be kept sealed in a vehicle (preferably the trunk) or in a camping unit constructed of solid, non-pliable material AT ALL TIMES when not in use, according to the park's website. Dispose of garbage promptly in dumpsters provided. Unattended or improperly stored coolers, food, and scented items may be impounded by campground staff. This regulation will be strictly enforced and violators are subject to fines.
“In this incident, the bear was likely attracted to food smells throughout the area, including dog food at the involved campsite," said Lisa McInnis, Chief of Resource Management with GSMNP. "It is very difficult to deter this learned behavior and, as in this case, the result can lead to an unacceptable risk to people.”