FOTS, ATC protect backpackers, bears

Apr 17, 2014
Photo by: Sam Hobbs photo

This summer while hiking and camping along the Appalachian Trial in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP), backpackers can continue to keep their food and packs out of reach of black bears, thanks to a grant from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC).

For the fourth year, the ATC has made wildlife health and backpacker safety a priority, providing $4,000 from its specialty license plate funds to support bear management at campsites and shelters along the Appalachian Trail. The Appalachian Trail is a national park unit spanning from Georgia to Maine with more than 70 miles of trail in GSMNP.

"Proper food storage is key in helping us best protect bears in the backcountry and provide a safe camping space for hikers," said Bill Stiver, wildlife biologist. "By repairing damaged cables quickly, we can best ensure that backpackers have the opportunity to properly store food which helps us keep backcountry campsites safely open and available for use."

Each backcountry campsite and shelter in GSMNP has a cable and pulley system that allows backpackers to easily hoist their food and packs out of the reach of black bears, providing a safe environment for hikers and animals alike. Using the grant funds from the ATC, GSMNP staff and wildlife interns will promptly identify bear management needs, including repairing cable systems which become damaged by the elements and normal use over time.

“Both groups share an interest in safe backcountry experiences, keeping wildlife wild, and working with partners,” said Stephen Woody, treasurer for the Friends of the Smokies board of directors. “Plus, with a backpacker on the Appalachian Trail plate and a black bear on the Smokies plate, it’s hard to think of a better project for us to work together on.”

“Friends and the ATC both work toward the common goal of improving the visitor experience and protecting the natural resources of our two great national park units,” said Holly Demuth, North Carolina director of Friends of the Smokies. “We can achieve great things when we work together.”