For many people, the idea of seeing a bear in the wild is terrifying. But for just as many, if not more, having a chance to see these biggest native wildlife neighbors—safely—is thrilling. Black bears (ursus americanus) have begun to thrive again in the wild areas of Tennessee. Despite their name, they range in color from pale brown to black, and stand between two and three feet tall on all fours—up to five feet standing on their hind legs. Possibly heading towards extinction in the early part of the 20th century, the big predators were saved by the establishment of the Cherokee National Forest and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in the 1930s, which allowed them safe haven and roam to roam. Bear sanctuaries were established and laws against illegal harvests and the hunting of adult females were strictly enforced. Bear populations benefited from the maturation and increased productivity of key oak forest species in protected areas.
But with their increased population has come increased interaction with humans. Outdoor Chattanooga is giving hikers a chance to learn about bears with Erin Outz, a naturalist with Tennessee Wild. The free class will be followed by a family hike (no strollers, please.) Don’t forget to bring sturdy shoes or boots and water if you plan to hike.
“All About Black Bears,” 10 a.m. – noon, Saturday, Oct. 26. Meet at Outdoor Chattanooga, 200 River St. (in Coolidge Park). (423) 643-6888, outdoorchattanooga.com