Smokies backpackers, bears bring in the new year
While enjoying a visit to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, backpackers like to keep a respectable distance from black bears. With help from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) and the Friends of the Smokies, they can continue to do so in some of the most backpacker friendly hiking in the Southern Appalachians.
The ATC has provided $800 from its specialty license plate funds to help reduce black bear access to backpacker food along the Appalachian Trail (A.T.), a national park unit within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP).
Using the grant funds from the ATC, Park staff and volunteers have installed cables that backpackers and trail improvement crews use to store food out of the reach of black bears. Cabling systems were renovated at the Derrick Knob shelter along the A.T. and installed at the new base camp of the Rocky Top Trail crew.
“The cables give visitors an effective method to store and secure food so that bears and other wildlife do not have access to human food,” said GSMNP Wildlife BiologistBill Stiver. "By using the cables, backpackers are helping insure that wildlife are not unnaturally attracted inside the shelters. Keeping human food away from bears is one of the important steps we can take to keep bears and ourselves safe."
Friends of the Smokies and the ATC have partnered in many additional ways to decrease the impacts on GSMNP from the heavy amount of use that the A.T. and Park see as well as impacts from overnight sites on wildlife. Privies have been repaired and all of the backcountry shelters along the A.T. in the Smokies recently renovated. Additionally, through the Ridgerunner program the two organizations provide a backcountry presence on the A.T. to help ensure a safe and pleasant experience.
“It’s all about working together to protect two great national parks, their visitors and their natural resources,” said Holly Demuth, North Carolina director of Friends of the Smokies. “We do best when we work together.”
Since 1993, Friends of the Smokies has raised more than $37 million to help maintain Great Smoky Mountains National Park as a crown jewel of the national park system, including the establishment of the $4 million Trails Forever endowment to improve Smoky Mountain hiking trails in perpetuity.