Last summer while on a visit to Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP), backpackers were able to continue to keep their food and packs out of reach of bears, protecting both themselves and the bears. For a third year the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) has made backpacker safety and wildlife health a priority, providing $1,110 from its specialty license plate funds to help reduce black bear access to backpacker food along the Appalachian Trail (A.T.). The A.T. is a national park unit spanning from Georgia to Maine with more than 70 miles in GSMNP.
“Both groups share an interest in safe backcountry experiences, keeping wildlife wild, and working with partners,” said Stephen Woody, treasurer for the Friends of the Smokies Board of Directors. “Plus, with a backpacker on the A.T. plate and a black bear on the Smokies plate, it’s hard to think of a better project for us to work together on.”
Using the grant funds from the ATC, GSMNP staff and wildlife interns repaired cables at the Mollies Ridge shelter and Cosby Knob shelter, which had become damaged by the elements and use over time. With proper and vigilant use by backpackers, the repaired storage system will continue to increase both visitor and bear safety by helping reduce the number of bears raiding shelter areas in the park. According to Bill Stiver, wildlife biologist with GSMNP, “as backpackers continue to hang their food, the cables protect hikers and campers,” Stiver continued, “Not to mention keeping the bears from learning to depend on human food.”
Friends of the Smokies and the ATC have also partnered to renovate many of the backcountry shelters along the A.T. in the Smokies and to support several other efforts to address trail maintenance and hiker safety.
“It’s all about preserving and protecting two great national park units, visitor experience and their natural resources,” said Holly Demuth, North Carolina director of Friends of the Smokies. “We do best when we work together.”
Additional Online Resources
Friends of the Smokies - http://www.friendsofthesmokies.org ATC license tag program visit www.appalachiantrail.org/plates Since 1993, the not-for-profit Friends of the Smokies organization has raised more than $40 million to help maintain Great Smoky Mountains National Park as a crown jewel of the national park system, including the establishment of the $4 million Trails Forever endowment to improve Smoky Mountain hiking trails in perpetuity.