Bear-resistant lockers installed along Catawba section of Appalachian Trail

Bears in the Smoky Mountains long ago figured out how to raid food bags hanging from trees. But until this year, the bears in the Blue Ridge didn’t know how. Now, mama bears are teaching the baby bears how to do it.

Are the black bears in the areas of McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs in Virginia growing smarter? At the least, they seem cagier and more socialized to humans in those Appalachian Trail areas. And that can be dangerous for both man and beast.

Signs warning of bear encounters along that trail stretch first went up in the summer of 2015. Then early this past May, a series of food raids by bears raised alarms among trail administrators and enthusiasts. After closing one popular shelter and campsite near Tinker Cliffs, they raised $4,000 to buy bear-resistant food-storage lockers.

The hard part came last weekend: Moving the four heavy steel Bear Saver boxes to their remote destinations. That effort involved more than a dozen volunteers working for two days with an all-terrain vehicle and hand carts.

They installed food lockers at the Catawba shelter (about 2 miles northeast of Virginia 311); the Campbell shelter (which is just northeast of McAfee Knob), and the Lamberts Meadow shelter and campsite in southern Botetourt County. The four AT stopping points are along the trail between U.S. 311 in Catawba and U.S. 220 in Daleville.

That allowed for the reopening of the Lamberts Meadow shelter and campsite, which had been closed since three incidents on successive days in May.

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