How to Bear the Bears of Shenandoah National Park (and keep them bearin’ you…)

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Mama bear and cubs, seen shortly after crossing the road outside Big Meadows Campground. (hooray for camera zoom)

(I just can’t quit the bad bear puns.)

In recent years, black bear sightings have increased dramatically inside Shenandoah National Park, that gorgeous nearly 200,000-acre expanse of land that technically belongs to every American. Personally speaking, I’ve been visiting Shenandoah since I was quite young and never once saw a bear until just a couple of years ago! I’ve since seen several more. My first bear sighting evoked pure excitement out of me – that was the last thing I expected to see by the side of Skyline Drive one October, but there he or she was. The campsite daydreams of my youth found me longing to catch a glimpse of a black bear in the wild and enviously paging through the Shenandoah “wildlife sightings” binders. Whenever I heard an animal snuffling around the tent late at night, I’d quietly hope to find a giant bear print just outside in the morning.

These days, the likelihood of finding that bear print outside one’s tent has greatly increased – especially this year – and that’s not really a thing to celebrate. Bear viewing is wonderful, but we’re talking about a powerful wild animal here – one you don’t want to get conditioned to see you as a source of food! Numerous hikers and campers have reported having their belongings or tents shredded by bears in search of human food. Yikes! A little common sense will help both you and the bears stay safe, as well as ensure we can continue to enjoy bear sightings from a safe distance for generations to come! (A bear conditioned to seek out humans will not stop seeking them out. So when bears start to become nuisances or dangers in the park, they must be trapped and relocated or euthanized.)

With an understanding of the bear facts and a simple desire to co-exist with wildlife, you can avoid contributing to the problem. Spread the word! Learn the bear etiquette for visiting campgrounds and wilderness where black bears live here: Enjoying Bears Safely at Shenandoah. You might be surprised by some of the tips, but hopefully you’re not surprised that you shouldn’t feed a wild bear, no matter how cute and cuddly and friendly he may seem. Shenandoah isn’t a petting zoo; take that mess somewhere else!

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