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Portions of Mount Rogers National Recreation Area and Appalachian National Scenic Trail Temporarily Closed to Camping Due to Bear Activity

(August 31, 2018) Marion, Va – USDA Forest Service officials at the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests have temporarily closed portions of the Mount Rogers National Recreation high country and a segment of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail to camping due to increased black bear activity and human encounters. This camping closure affects approximately 20,000 acres of National Forest System lands in Grayson and Smyth Counties, including Elk Garden, Thomas Knob Shelter, the Scales, Old Orchard Shelter, and approximately 17 miles of the Appalachian Trail (Forest Trail #1).  The segment of the Appalachian Trail affected is between VA-600 at Elk Garden and VA-603 at Fox Creek.  Additionally, Virginia State Parks will be closing Wise Shelter at Grayson Highlands State Park which is adjacent to the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area and part of the high country’s system of shelters. Day use of this area, including hiking and horseback riding, are permitted under this closure.

“With a recent increase in black bear activity in the area, the temporary closure is necessary for public health and safety,” states Area Ranger Barry Garten.  “The Forest Service is working with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Grayson Highlands State Park, the National Park Service, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and Mount Rogers Appalachian Trail Club to evaluate options to address the human-bear conflict issue and the temporary closure will help facilitate that process. The area and trails will be reopened to camping as soon as possible.”

The agencies and partners are exploring ideas for long-term solutions to minimize human-bear conflicts.  We will keep the public informed as we move forward.

The George Washington and Jefferson National Forests are home to an increasing healthy population of black bears. So that visitors can enjoy the national forest, and the bears and other wildlife that make their home there, it is important that visitors follow certain guidelines regarding bears and food storage.

Backcountry visitors should be familiar with Leave No Trace methods to secure their food.  Following these methods dramatically reduces the risk of human-bear conflicts.

Bears are opportunists by nature. They prefer to feed on natural food sources, such as berries, nuts, and insects, but will feed on food unsecured by humans. Garbage and food odors attract bears to residential areas, dump sites, campsites, and picnic areas.

Once a bear develops a pattern of gaining access to human food sources, it can become habituated to those food sources. This behavior creates safety concerns for humans and the bear due to changes in its natural behavior.

Following are guidelines that will help reduce the chances of a close encounter with a bear:

  • Never leave food or trash unattended.
  • Use other Leave No Trace techniques.
  • Never cook or store food in or near your tent.
  • Pack out all garbage including fruit rinds and cores, empty cans or jars, and aluminum foil used for grilling or cooking. 
  • Pick up all food scraps around your site.
  • Never feed a bear or other animals.
  • Never approach a bear.
  • If a bear approaches your site, pack up your food and trash. If necessary, attempt to scare the animal away with loud shouts, or by banging pans together. If the bear is persistent, move away slowly to your vehicle or other secure area.
  • Keep children close at hand.
  • Keep pets properly confined to a leash.
  • Always respect bears and admire them from a distance.

For more information on the closure, please contact the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area at (276) 783-5196 or watch for updates at www.appalachiantrail.org/updates

For more information about bear safety visit www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/bear/living-with-black-bears/  or  www.appalachiantrail.org/bears or bearwise.org