The National Park Service announced it has closed a section of the popular Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina after it documented multiple reports of visitors feeding and attempting to hold a young bear in recent weeks.
The National Park Service said a portion of the route from milepost 367.6 near the Craggy Gardens Picnic Area to milepost 375.6 at Ox Creek Road will remain closed until further notice.
The National Park Service shared a photo from the Lane Pinnacle Overlook showing several visitors standing within feet of the bear.
Officials said this time of year is important for bears to forage before hibernating as they can spend up to 20 hours a day gathering food. While bears seek natural foods, the National Park Service said they will gather human food "when presented with the opportunity."
"We are closing this section of the road temporarily for the safety of both the bear and park visitors," said Superintendent Tracy Swartout. "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."
The National Park Service says venturing within 50 yards of a bear is illegal. Officials also say humans should not leave food for bears as human food can alter bears' behaviors toward humans.
The Blue Ridge Parkway ranks as one of the National Park Service's top attractions, drawing 15.7 million visitors in 2022.
While the National Park Service doesn't have exact data for the closed section, a nearby milepost (382.5) drew about 422,000 visitors last year.
The parkway extends from Cherokee, North Carolina to Afton, Virginia.
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