Bear Attacks 16-Year-Old Girl At Tennessee Park Campsite

Incidents with black bears on mountain trails and campsites had already forced closures and warnings in other areas.

GON Staff | June 18, 2021

A large male black bear entered a campsite just after midnight this morning and attacked a 16-year-old girl who was sleeping in a hammock.

The girl’s four family members who were sleeping nearby were able to drive the bear away, but not before the girl received multiple injuries, including head lacerations, according to a news release. They were camping about 6 miles from the Maddron Bald trailhead in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park of Cocke County, Tennessee, just east of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. The attack occurred at 12:30 a.m. on June 18, 2021.

“The family was able to drive the bear off from the area immediately after the attack and quickly notified the park’s emergency communications center,” the National Park Service said.

Park service rangers soon arrived provided medical care throughout the night.

“The young woman received multiple injuries including lacerations to the head. She remained conscious throughout the incident and is in stable condition at this time.”

After daylight, she was airlifted in a National Guard helicopter and flown to the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville.

Two bears were seen later in the morning near the campsite, officials said.

“One larger, male bear entered the campsite while the rangers were present and repeatedly approached the area in spite of attempts to scare it from the site. The bear was identified by the family as being the one responsible for the attack, and rangers shot and killed it. Through forensic testing, wildlife biologists were able to confirm human blood on the euthanized bear.”

The family of five was on a two-night backpacking trip in the park when the attack occurred. The rest of the family was asleep when the attack began and officials did not report they suffered injuries while trying to frighten the bear away. Food in the family’s campsite was properly stored and was out of reach of bears, officials said.

Black bear attacks on humans are rare, but a midnight attack on June 18, 2021 on a sleeping girl raises concerns. File photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Incidents with black bears been always been characterized as rare, but this year in particular officials are reporting more encounters, including some that have led to other closures of trials and campsites.

“While serious incidents with bears are rare, we remind visitors to remain vigilant while in the backcountry and to follow all precautions while hiking in bear country,” Superintendent Cassius Cash said in a news release. “The safety of visitors is our number one priority.”

The Maddron Bald attack comes at a time when the nearby Appalachian Trail has closed multiple campsites in the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina due to aggressive bear activity, including bears stealing backpacks. Hiking is still allowed on the trail, but campsites are closed between mile markers 451 through 464 and between mile markers 245 and 253.

Also, the U.S. Forest Service issued a warning last Friday, June 11, 2021, for North Carolina hikers to take precautions when visiting the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness about 110 miles southwest of Asheville. The forest service said it received “reports of increased bear encounters” at four spots: Haoe Lead Trail TR53, Stratton Bald Trail TR54, Hangover Lead Trail TR56 and Hangover Trail TR56A.

Blue Ridge Parkway officials announced Friday that “tents and soft-sided campers are temporarily prohibited at Mount Pisgah Campground” due to “increasing bear activity in recent days.”

Maddron Trail near Cookeville, Tennessee was the site of an attack on a sleeping 16-year-old girl by a black bear at a backcountry campsite.

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