Bear knowledge

Expo teaches visitors, residents the A-B-Cs of black bears

Anyone who thinks using a cellular phone to take a picture of a black bear in the National Park is a good idea must have missed the inaugural Black Bear Expo at the Townsend Visitors Center.

Appalachian Bear Rescue organized the June 26 event and between 150 and 200 bear enthusiasts showed up to learn about the black bears known to populate the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Kathy Sherrard, secretary of the board of Appalachian Bear Rescue and coordinator of the education volunteers, said planners were happy with the turnout and the event. “We felt it was a success. We accomplished our main goal of educating people in the area -- tourists as well as residents -- about getting along with bears,” she said.

Photographer Chuck Cooper demonstrated the types of equipment needed in order to take photos and told people not to try to get bear photos with cell phone cameras.

“You can’t get pictures with a cell phone camera when you are 50 yards away,” Sherrard explained.

Sherrard said there was an excellent display of campground do’s and don’t set up by volunteer Joey Holt and volunteer Albert Earl explained the exhibit. David Whitehead from TWRA also had display that showed people a bear trap and what they use when they tranquilize bears.

“We had exhibits with bear education games for kids and adults to play to learn about bears. We had items people could touch and hold. We really felt that it was a success,” Sherrard said.

Author Joel Zachary was on hand selling his new book, “Bears We’ve Met,” and he shared profits with Appalachian Bear Rescue, as did Moonshine Ridge, who sold bear shirts to those who attended. “Tony Thomas was our Appalachian musician, and we also had Pistol Creek Catch of the Day on hand,” Sherrard said.

Joey Holt led a hike to a bear den up a trail in the Park. There were two storytellers on hand. “Dwight McCarter and Joe Kelley, two retired Park rangers, entertained us with stories of their experiences. Curator Lisa Stewart gave a talk about bear cubs and our rehabilitation work with them,” Sherrard said.

“There were 20 on the hike, and there were at least 150 to 200 at the Expo all day,” she added.

Appalachian Bear Rescue in Townsend is a facility that specializes in caring for and rehabilitating injured and/or orphaned bears and releasing them into the wild.

Sherrard said the Expo raised $1,500 in badly needed funds to use in the care of the bears at facility. “Right now, we have very important facility upgrades we need to do, but we’ve had to spend all our money on food. In June, our food was $5,300, and it has been running anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 per month so far in 2010,” she said.

Sherrard said that fortunately three of the Park bears will be released soon. “Right now, we have nine. Most of them are yearlings, meaning they were born in 2009, and they are a year-and-a-half old. One is a 2010 cub, so he’s six-and-a-half months old,” she said.

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