ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- A section of the Blue Ridge Parkway has been closed by officials "after multiple documented reports of visitors feeding and attempting to hold a young bear in recent weeks," the National Park Service said in a news release.
The closure affects an eight-mile section of the parkway near Asheville, North Carolina, during prime leaf-peeping season. The section closed on Monday "until further notice."
The Blue Ridge Parkway starts in Waynesboro, Virginia, and stretches more than 469 miles, ending in the Great Smoky Mountains near Cherokee, North Carolina, according to NPS.
"When people intentionally attract bears with trash and food it can lead to very dangerous situations. In this instance we want to give the bear a chance to lose interest in the area before the situation escalates and visitors or the bear are harmed," Superintendent Tracy Swartout said in the release.
Motorcyclist Jeff Guffey stopped last week at the Lane Pinnacle Overlook, where the recent interactions were reported, and a young bear approached his motorcycle.
Guffey said he gave the bear its space.
"I kept my distance. I made some noise to spook it away and it ended up returning to the motorcycle," Guffey said. "It even took a few bites out of my seats."
Fall is an important time for bears, when they may spend up to 20 hours a day foraging for food, NPS said in the release. Bears are seeking food between September and November to prepare for winter and hibernation.
The National Park Service pointed to its bear safety tips in the release, which highlight that "willfully approaching within 50 yards (150 feet), or any distance that disturbs or displaces a bear, is illegal in the park." Violations can result in fines and arrest. The safety tips instruct visitors not to feed bears and to properly store all food.
The tips also provide detailed instructions for what to do during a black bear encounter, including slowly backing away to give the bear more space and standing your ground and acting aggressively if a black bear persistently follows you.
The recent interactions occurred at the Lane Pinnacle Overlook. The closed section stretches from milepost 367.6 near the Craggy Gardens Picnic Area to milepost 375.6 at Ox Creek Road.
The National Park Service said that the Craggy Gardens recreational area, a popular hiking spot with great sunrise and sunset views, could still be accessed via NC80 from the north, but the visitor center at milepost 364.5 will be closed until the parkway reopens.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is the most-visited of the National Park Service's 425 sites, according to 2022 figures. The spectacular road logged 15.71 million visits last year.
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