Spring Road Status
During spring, park roads may close due to ice, especially at high elevation where wet roads can freeze as temperatures drop at night. For road status information call (865) 436-1200 ext. 631 or follow updates at http://twitter.com/SmokiesRoadsNPS. More »
Focus On... the Wild(life) Side of the Smokies
“The black bear is the symbol of the Smokies,” says wildlife biologist Bill Stiver. Looking around Gatlinburg, Tennessee and other towns that border the national park, this seems undeniable. From black bear t-shirts to carved bear-shaped logs, representations of this charismatic bear are everywhere. In the past, many people expected to find the same bear in the park that they’d seen in the stores: a grinning, shaggy, friendly animal. Visitors came to the Smokies—and other national parks, from Yellowstone to Yosemite— not only to see wildlife, but to get up close and feed them. This resulted in some great photos, but it also led to hundreds of conflicts resulting in the death of many bears and injuries to people.
The current bear population estimate—1,500 to 1,600 bears—is the largest ever recorded here, yet you may be less likely to glimpse one than ever before. The reason is that more bears are wild. Over the years, the number of “nuisance bears,” (animals that bother or are aggressive toward humans) has dropped significantly. Thoughtful and successful bear management from wildlife staff—along with help from park maintenance, law enforcement, resource education, and visitors like you—has made the co-existence of humans and bears possible.
In addition to better management, we also know much more about the black bears themselves, due in large part to professors such as Dr. Mike Pelton (now retired) and Dr. Frank van Manen, and many graduate researchers at the University of Tennessee. These researchers have conducted bear population—and more recently, genetic—studies in the Smokies since 1968.
Return to Dispatches from the Field: Issue 3 main page to link to each of these project descriptions.
Do you know how to keep your picnic or pack safe from bears in the Park? Check this list of tips before you go hiking or camping.
Did You Know?
More than 240 species of birds have been found in the park. Sixty species are year-round residents. Nearly 120 species breed in the park, including 52 species from the neo-tropics. Many other species use the park as an important stopover and foraging area during their semiannual migration. More...