A couple picnicking on the Blue Ridge Parkway in western North Carolina survived repeated bear attacks Wednesday evening, according to the National Park Service.
Multiple sections of the parkway are now closed “due to the bold and aggressive nature of this attack,” park officials said in a release.
The couple were able to drive themselves to Mission Hospital in Asheville, “where they were treated for their injuries and released,” officials said. The extent of their injuries was not revealed.
The incident happened in the parking lot of the Folk Art Center, a popular destination at Mile Post 382 near Asheville, officials said.
“The couple was having a picnic on a grassy hill near the Folk Art Center, when they were alerted to a bear by their dog,” officials said.
“The unleashed dog ran towards the bear while barking loudly. Likely aggravated by the dog, the bear acted defensively toward the dog and the couple. Over the next several minutes, there were repeated attacks by the bear while the couple retreated with their dog to the safety of their vehicle.”
Investigators say it is not unusual for bears to stomp their feet and huff at dogs, but this case was different. The bear “was uncharacteristically aggressive” and continued to pursue the couple even after they locked themselves in their vehicle, rangers said.
“This is not typical or characteristic defensive bear behavior and indicates a more predatory response,” officials said. “This presents an intolerable level of risk.”
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and National Park Service are working together to capture the bear, officials said. An investigation is underway and forensic evidence was taken for a DNA analysis.
“If the offending bear is captured and positively identified, officials will humanely euthanize the animal,” the parkway said.
“Due to the bold and aggressive nature of this attack, temporary closures are in place on all trails in the area and outdoor food is currently prohibited.”
Closed areas include:
“The Mountains to Sea Trail from the intersection with the Visitor Center Loop Trail near parkway milepost 384 to Riceville Rd. Bridge at milepost 382.
The Folk Art Center Nature Loop Trail and all trails accessed off of Bull Mountain Road.
Picnicking is prohibited between the Asheville Visitor Center and adjacent parking areas near parkway milepost 384 to the Haw Creek Overlook near milepost 380.”
“During the busy fall visitation season on the Parkway, visitors are reminded that the fall is also a critical feeding period for bears before they enter winter hibernation. Park visitors are reminded to take necessary precautions,” the park said.
“If attacked by a black bear, rangers strongly recommend fighting back with any object available and remember that bears may view you and your pets as prey. Though rare, attacks on humans do occur, and can cause injuries or death.”
The parkway covers 469 miles of “rugged mountains and pastoral landscapes of the Appalachian Highlands” in western Virginia and North Carolina, according to the National Park Service.