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It was in the 1930s that the Great Smoky Mountain National Park was finally and fully authorized. This came about because of the hard work and diligence of several well-known people. It is one of the largest protected land areas in the continental united states, covering over 520,976 acres!
The Smoky Mountains
One of the first people to advocate for the park was W.P. Davis, who came from Knoxville, Tennessee. It all began with a tour that he and his wife made of the western national parks. The story tells of a woman who was curious why there wasn’t a national park in the Great Smoky Mountains considering the beautiful scenery and the wonderful animals that made their home there.
The park was an immediate success, setting the record for one year visitation in 1941 with over one million visitors. It is still one of the most popular parks to this day. Tourism has continued to grow, and people come for many reasons: to see the tall, beautiful trees, the thousands of lovely plants, and the variety of animals that make this park their home.
Black Bears Are a Local Treasure
Black bears are among the most popular animals in East Tennessee: they are considered a local treasure in the area. Most of them find their homes in the Cherokee National Forest, and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Because of the growth of the park, the population of black bears has steadily grown throughout the years.
Their roaming grounds once included most of North America, but due to the growing human population and economic changes the country underwent, the bears habitats have shrunk, and these bears have had a more difficult time finding food and water and places to sleep and hibernate. Once these vital habitats are lost, it is unavoidable that bears and humans alike should suffer.
Now the bears have begun wandering out of the park into communities. They may come across human food, and become erratic and dangerous. Tourists often still try to bother and feed these treasured animals; it doesn’t seem to matter how many times people are warned to leave the black bears alone. This encourages the bears to get into things they shouldn’t, such as pilfered food and trash. Unfortunately, most people don’t seem to realize the damage they are causing to these beautiful creatures.
A black bear’s natural lifespan is anywhere from twelve to fifteen years. Bears that have been "touched" by humans, however, have a shortened lifespan of only six to seven years.
This is one of the reasons that we have our national parks and forests: to protect bear sanctuaries. Strict laws are in place that must be observed: you are not allowed to kill adult female bears. Wildlife agencies are constantly working to protect the bear population.
What Kind of Bears Are in Gatlinburg?
Almost all bears in East Tennessee are black in color, which is where they get their name from. However, in other parts of the country, they can have a reddish-brown color. Males can weight up to five hundred pounds! Females are usually smaller and weigh less: somewhere between one hundred and two hundred pounds. They can be up to six feet from end to end, and three from the ground to their shoulder.
Black Bear Activities
Bears are similar to people in their eating habits. They enjoy eating plants and animals but a majority of their diet is made up of nuts and berries. They get protein from insects and animals they find that are already dead. Unlike many animals, they can see in color. They also enjoy swimming, climbing trees, and they have an uncanny sense of smell.
Most bears can be seen out foraging for food in the mornings or evenings in the spring and summer months. They also mate during the summer months. It is interesting to note that bears are not monogamous creatures: both males and females are known to take multiple partners during mating season. They will find a den when cooler weather begins to start. This is usually a hollow tree stump or anywhere else they can find shelter.
Mother bears give birth in January. They can have up to four babies. These small black bears weigh only about eight ounces when they are born. Baby cubs will stay with their mothers until they are eighteen months old.
The Gatlinburg Wildlife Encounter at Ober Gatlinburg
In Gatlinburg, Tennessee there is a wildlife encounter where you can see many animals. This includes the playful river otters who enjoy playing under water. There are also beautiful bobcats as well, and birds of prey in an enclosed aviary. There are other native species that will eventually find their home here as well including foxes, raccoons, skunks, flying squirrels, and turtles and snakes.
One of the real reasons that people visit the wildlife encounter in Ober Gatlinburg is the black bear family that inhabits it. There is a two-generational family that lives there, including Minnie and BJ, and their grown children, Holly and Chief.
During the winter months, bears will tend to hibernate and you won’t be able to see them when visiting. So make sure when you visit in the summer to make this wildlife encounter a priority.
Safety First When it Comes to Black Bears
When you enter the woods in East Tennessee during the summer months, it is definitely expected to see the black bears in the area. Rest assured they are there, even if you don’t see them. It is very important to make sure you know the proper way to handle a bear encounter.
You can do most of this research online, but there are also park rangers and other employees who can give you information on the proper way to handle one of these encounters. They want to make sure that both you and the bears remain safe.