Tennessee Woman Comes Face-to-Face With Black Bear in Gatlinburg Restaurant Scare

by Jon D. B.

“All of a sudden I looked up and out of the hillside came this figure,” says Cindy Kitts of her black bear scare in Gatlinburg, just outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Kitts, a Knoxville, TN resident, was waiting for the rest of her family to exit Parkside Grill’s Gatlinburg location. As she sat in the parking lot with her windows down, using her phone, Cindy received a very unexpected visitor.

“The next thing I know, I look over and here he is in the window and I’m like, ‘oh hi,’” Kitts tells local WATE of the perpetrator: a black bear.

Phone in hand, she snapped two photos. But in a matter of seconds, the bear was gone.

“I just sat there very quietly and very calmly, and the next thing I know he just jumps down and wonders off,” Kitts recalls. Smartly, she suspects the bear was out looking for an easy meal. Thankfully, there was no food in her vehicle, which could’ve been what shortened the black bear’s search.

Although it felt like a “cute moment,” Kitts says she was on high alert the entire time. She did not, however, feel threatened by the inquisitive ursine.

“Had I felt threatened, I definitely would have started the car and rolled the window up,” she adds. Regardless, Kitts wants to remind Tennesseans to “never interact with a bear.”

“If you have a bear approach you, and you feel threatened by the bear, please, please don’t reach out to pet the bear, don’t feed it food, don’t do anything like that,” she told the news outlet afterward. “If it sounds aggressive, scream, make yourself bigger than what the bear is.”

Tennessee Black Bear Gives a Solid Reminder to Never Interact with Wildlife

Kitts’ advice is solid. It may feel malicious to scream and shout at a bear, but it’s for their own good – and yours. Allowing a bear to approach you for food habituates the animal, and greatly increases their chances of death.

Habituated bears (bears conditioned to associate humans and human places with food) are euthanized to prevent dangerous encounters more often than not. Habituated black bears can become aggressive, too, as their focus is on an easy meal – not interacting with a human.

The National Park Service’s website outlines black bear safety with science-proven methods. It’s a crucial read for anyone who lives in or is planning to visit bear country.

As for Cindy Kitts’ close call, “It’s something I won’t forget. I just thought to myself I will never have an opportunity like that pop up again, literally pop up again,” she concludes.

For more black bear safety, be sure to see our National Parks Journal: How to Be BearWise with Great Smoky Mountains’ Lead Wildlife Biologist next.