Home Hikers, campers: Be bear aware in national forests, on the Appalachian Trail

Hikers, campers: Be bear aware in national forests, on the Appalachian Trail

Crystal Graham
black bears
(© Mike – stock.adobe.com)

Hikers and campers in the George Washington and Jefferson National forests as well as on the Appalachian Trail may encounter bears who may be roaming in search of food.

Bears are typically shy and keep their distance. However, bears often associate people with food, and bears are tenacious in their pursuit of something to eat.

Good food storage habits greatly reduce the chance of aggressive interactions between bears and hikers during daytime activities and when sleeping in the forest.

“We want everyone to stay safe and be bear aware in the great outdoors,” said Joby Timm, forest supervisor. “Black bears have an exceptionally keen sense of smell. That’s why hikers should pack all food and any personal items that have a smell, like toothpaste and soap, in a bear-proof container so bears and other animals can’t detect the scents.”

Tips to avoid a bear encounter

  • Hikers can avoid bear encounters by making noise, whistling or talking. These noises alert nearby bears, giving them a chance to move away and not feel threatened by humans who traverse their habitat.
  • Don’t hang out near a bear’s favorite food sources: berry patches, decaying logs swarming with insects and streams and rivers teeming with fish.
  • Stay alert. Don’t wear headphones and approach blind corners on the trail with caution.
  • Learn how to pack a bear-resistant container and tips for cooking in bear country in this video

Because black bears inhabit the Appalachian Trail corridor and can smell food from long distances, the Forest Service has a food storage policy for all hikers within 1,000 feet of the trail – a distance the equivalent of three football fields. The order applies to the southern section of the A.T. that traverses Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.