Within its roughly 521,490 acres, Great Smoky Mountains National Park probably harbors about 1,500 black bears, according to the park's biologists. And this summer, those bears have been particularly ornery.
So problematic have the bruins been, that park officials have been warning visitors that they can be fined for getting too close to bears.
Bears are very active in park this year. Several backcountry areas have been closed or posted with warnings due to bear activity. Do not feed or approach bears!
A message on the park's website says some bears have been approaching visitors and "challenging them for them for food. Some of these bears have been extremely bold in attempting to get food."
The problem apparently stems, in part, from a poor berry crop in the park this summer.
While bears can appear quite tame and even cute from a distance, up close they can be not just unpredictable but highly dangerous. Back in May 2000 a 50-year-old woman was killed in the park by a black bear and partially consumed. More recently, a young boy was attacked by a bear while he and his father were hiking along the Rainbow Falls Trail.
Bottom line: Keep your distance from bears in the park -- you can be fined and arrested for willfully coming within 150 feet of a bear -- and keep a clean campsite with food locked out of reach and garbage properly disposed of.
"Feeding bears and improper food storage can result in fines of up to $5,000 and jail sentences lasting up to six months," park officials note.