For every family contemplating the opportunities that foreign lands and undiscovered territories have to offer, there are key deal breakers: money and danger. Like any new experience, people have their doubts and concerns, but sometimes, their own fears are self-afflicted. While vacationing in the Smoky Mountains, I came to the realization of exactly how oblivious people are to the disasters around them that are self-created by human beings. As a visitor, I envisioned woods covered with wildlife and hundreds of natural trails that guided tourists through the beauty of the Smoky Mountains. The beauty of this remarkable landscape was no disappointment, but one unexpected twist changed my view point on the growth of our modernized society.
Andrew's Bald - 1.8 mile hike
Through my hiking experiences throughout the Great Smoky Mountains and areas of the Cherokee Indian Reservation in North Carolina, I found myself questioning people's morals and concepts of thinking. In a city populated by visitors and vacationers from different states all across the country, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, it would be thought that people's main attraction would be the Great Smoky Mountains whose terrain brings some of the most beautiful scenaries to life. Instead of seeing families camping and enjoying the beautiful view of the country, I found that families are kept up in resorts and waterparks that are set dead center in torn down sections of the once booming forests. Hiking trails are plagued with signs stating: "Beware of Bears" and "Please do not feed the animals." Watching a young girl climb the trails with her mother, I noticed a small tug on her mother's pant leg as the girl asked about the dangers of the mountains. The mother responded how any mother would, however, with a sense of doubt in the tone of her voice. People are oblivious to the true damage they cause. These signs serve as more of rule for the bears protection rather than as a precaution.
People are 46 times more likely to be murdered by another human being than to be killed by a black bear, and, with the diminishing forests that are reduced by the pollution and destruction by human beings, the possibilities are even less likely. The 750,000 black bears in North America kill less than one person per year on average, while one out of every 16,000 commit a murder each year.
Great Smoky Mountains Nation Park is one of the largest protected areas in the eastern United States where black bears can live in the wild in their natural surroundings. Although this is one of the most highly protected areas in the United States, only 1,500 bears live within the park's inhabitance. This is roughly two bears per square mile. These bears can live 12 to 15 years, or longer, however, bears who have been exposed to or receive access to human foods and garbage have a life expectancy that is only half.
Although some may perceive black bears as being avid hunters, these bears are mainly omnivores, consuming berries, nuts, and plants which make up 85 percent of their diet. Changes in animal behavior and eating patterns are rather caused by outside sources than by the bears 'instinctive' decisions.
Feeding and allowing bears access to human foods causes a number of issues:
1. Changes the bears behavior
- Loss of their instinctive fear of humans
- Approaching humans; unpredictable and dangerous
2. Damage property and injure people
- Risk to public safety
- Teach and promote dangerous behavior of other bears
3. Increase number of deaths
- Health issues
- Hit by cars
- Easy poaching targets
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park may be protected by the state of Tennessee, but there are many other vacation spots and tourist attractions who do not take the natural resources of these magnificent mountains into consideration. Next time you choose your vacation spot, keep in mind exactly what aspect of the spectrum you are supporting. Is living in a fancy hotel really worth destroying one of the most magnificent wonders of the world? People see these monuments as a piece of their memories to share with their families for generations to come, but what if one day there is nothing left besides a few thousand houses on a mountainous hillside? Be a part of the generation that makes a difference!
Want to learn more about the Great Smoky Mountains and about the amazing opportunities available? Visit the National Park Service Website and donate to help protect the wildlife and promote the public's education research program!