Hungry, aggressive bears shut down trails in Smoky Mountains

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SMOKY MOUNTAINS, Tenn. (WVLT) -- If you're headed to the Smoky Mountains anytime soon, consider this a warning: Some of your favorite trails may be off limits.

That's because black bears are hungry this time of year. And they're getting more aggressive.

"There's not a lot of natural food sources out there. We're still waiting, about another two weeks, for the berries to ripen up," park spokesperson Molly Schroer said.

In the meantime, these bears are venturing into the open, looking for dinner.

"If they see an opportunity, and somebody has left food out unattended on a picnic table in a campground, they're gonna go into that area, try to take that food, and that's when we have a problem," Schroer said.

They've had to close parts of the park because bears are getting too close, she said. They've shut down the Spence Field Shelter, Curry Mountain Trail, Meigs Creek Trail, Meigs Mountain Trail, Bullhead Trail and Backcountry Campsites 11,13,19, 20 and 113.

Park rangers are tracking the bears, trying to keep them away from popular areas.

"We'll do stuff like shoot it with a bean bag in the bottom. It doesn't break the skin, but it gives it a nice little smack, just kinda make it have a little natural fear of us," she said.

For some hikers, that fear is mutual.

"It's the not the zoo. They're big and they're fast, and they're strong," hiker Waring Porter said. "Two years ago, with my daughter who was ten, we came up on a bear, about 30 yards away, and kinda had a standoff for about 15 minutes."

Others are hoping to spot a black bear.

"We don't have any bears where we're from, so it's pretty exciting for us to see any sort of wildlife. If we see a bear, we're stopping," said Owen The, a hiker on vacation from Australia.

Though it sounds cliche, park officials remind visitors to never feed the bears.

"Store your food properly, store your garbage properly, throw it away in a proper can that is animal proof," Schroer said.

It's illegally to purposefully approach within 50 yards of a bear.

Park officials expect the bears to calm down in the next couple of weeks once their food starts to ripen. That's when they'll re-open the trails.

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