On a visitors' website for the town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, there's an entire page dedicated to "Bear Facts," due to the prevalence of black bears in the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park. "Though populations are variable, biologists estimate that roughly 1,500 bears live in the park," the website reads. "This equals a population density of approximately two bears per square mile."
One bear might've expanded his (or her) territory last week, after it was seen not grazing quietly in the park itself, but lumbering down the sidewalk in the center of Gatlinburg. According to WATE, the bear actually went into Crawdaddy's Restaurant and Oyster Bar on Friday afternoon, running up the front stairs before turning around and leaving the building.
An employee said the bear "ran into someone" on his way out and knocked them to the ground. (We hope that person is OK, and we'd also love to see the reaction of their friends the first time they tell that story.)
A #bear wandered into a #Gatlinburg restaurant this afternoon. These pictures are from Kacie Faulling Myers. Her family is visiting from South Carolina and saw they bear from across the street. #WATE
FULL STORY: https://t.co/Tr2pzNrJWN pic.twitter.com/ZA5RHSHHJt
— Summer Dashe (@SummerDashe) July 30, 2021
After slipping out of Crawdaddy's, the bear reportedly wandered along the sidewalk, ignoring the fact that everyone was taking pictures of its trip downtown. "Can you imagine sitting in the restaurant and a bear coming out?" one visitor from South Carolina said, according to the station. (No, no we cannot.)
The Gatlinburg Police Department told WATE that an ambulance was called to the area, but fortunately, there don't seem to have been any injuries to humans or to the bear. The block where the bear was spotted is a seriously touristy section of the town: Crawdaddy's is in the middle of a row of restaurants, candy stores, souvenir shops, and the Ripley's Believe It or Not! museum.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this isn't the first time a bear has casually walked into a Gatlinburg-area restaurant. Last October, a black bear helped itself to the trash can inside the Smokehouse at the Anakeesta theme park. "We were sitting down and drinking hot chocolate," Tyler Crawford, who was in the restaurant at the time, told TheSmokies.com. "We had our backs turned to it and my son says 'Look, a bear' as casually as he could."
Crawford said that the unexpected animal encounter was nerve-wracking, especially when it "lunged" at some of the Smokehouse staffers. "My girlfriend can be heard [on our video of the incident] saying 'Can someone make this thing leave,'" he said. "She was frightened both for herself and for our son."
The bear was safely ushered out of the restaurant and no one was harmed. Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park encourage visitors to "be bear aware" during their time in the Smokies — and apparently, that awareness includes looking out for furry 550-pound dine-and-dashers, even when they're eating dinner.