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 wilderness 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 improved storage system increases both visitor and bear safety by helping reduce the reasons bears would be attracted to shelter areas in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, according to Bill Stiver, wildlife biologist with GSMNP. “The cables help protect hikers, campers, and the Rocky Top Trail Crew,” Mr. Stiver said; “Not to mention keeping the bears from learning to depend on human food.”
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.”