ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — A section of the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway in western North Carolina has been closed temporarily after the National Park Service said it received multiple reports of visitors feeding and attempting to hold a young bear.
The 8-mile (12.9-kilometer) closure just northeast of Asheville stretches from milepost 367.6 near the Craggy Gardens Picnic Area to milepost 375.6 at Ox Creek Road. National Park Service officials blocked off the road on Monday and say it will remain closed until further notice.
The recent bear interactions allegedly took place at the Lane Pinnacle Overlook, a popular high-elevation viewpoint, at the height of leaf-peeping season, officials said.
The temporary closure is necessary to protect bears and park visitors alike, said Blue Ridge Parkway Superintendent Tracy Swartout.
“When people intentionally attract bears with trash and food it can lead to very dangerous situations,” Swartout said in a written statement. “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.”
The fall months are an essential time for bears to forage for food and gain weight before their winter hibernation. But park officials warn that bears may also seek out foods that humans eat.
No one has been fined for feeding or approaching the bear, spokesperson Leesa Brandon told The Associated Press. Although videos posted online show visitors standing within a few feet (meters) of a small black bear, officials do not have any physical evidence of people feeding or holding it, she said.
Federal law prohibits people from intentionally getting within 50 yards (45.7 meters) of a bear.
Officials have not yet indicated when the section will reopen. Visitors can still access most of the 469-mile (755-kilometer) parkway, which was the most visited of any National Park Service site last year, logging about 15.7 million visits.
“We are still monitoring, and I think it'll take us a day or two to make sure we are confident that the bear is not going to frequent that spot as much as it has been," Brandon said.