Couple Hospitalized After 'Aggressive' Bear Attack During Picnic in North Carolina

A couple who were attacked and injured by a bear while having a picnic in North Carolina had to go to the hospital for treatment.

The attack occurred on Wednesday in the parking lot of the Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway—a spectacular 469 mile route through the Appalachian Mountains that is the longest linear park in the U.S.

The couple were having a picnic on a grassy hill near the Folk Art Center when their unleashed dog spotted a black bear and ran towards the animal while barking, officials from the National Park Service said in a statement.

"Likely aggravated by the dog, the bear acted defensively toward the dog and the couple," the statement said.

"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."

After making it back to their car, the couple drove themselves to a nearby hospital where they received treatment for their injuries. They were released later that day.

Officials subsequently conducted an investigation of the scene and forensic evidence was collected for DNA analysis.

Park rangers and wildlife biologists are now trying to find and capture the bear involved in the incident. If the animal is found, it will be euthanized as per park and North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) protocol.

Following the attack, officials temporarily closed several trails in the area as a precaution, while also advising against eating outside.

"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," the statement said.

Fall is one of the busiest times for the Blue Ridge Parkway, which passes through 29 counties in Virginia and North Carolina, as people flock to the route to see the spectacular autumn foliage. The Parkway was the most visited site in the U.S. National Park system in 2020, attracting more than 14.1 million visitors.

Critical Feeding Period for Bears

Officials also said fall is a critical feeding period for bears before the winter sets in, during which time the animals hibernate.

Visitors in bear country should take the necessary precautions, such as properly storing food, keeping pets on a leash and remaining a safe distance from the animals.

"Bears are wild animals that are dangerous and unpredictable, the National Park Service says on the Blue Ridge Parkway website. "Do not approach bears or allow them to approach you! Willfully approaching within 50 yards, or any distance that disturbs or displaces a bear, is illegal in the park. Violation of this federal regulation can result in fines and arrest."

"Do not feed bears! Mandatory food storage regulations are in effect in all park campgrounds, picnic areas and backcountry campsites. All food, coolers, utensils, cook stoves and other food related items must be stored out of sight in a closed vehicle or in a bear proof food storage locker. Never leave food or coolers unattended—even for a minute!"

While bear attacks on humans are rare, they do sometimes occur, resulting in injuries or death in a handful of cases.

Newsweek has contacted the Blue Ridge Parkway Association for comment.

A black bear
A file photo of a black bear. A couple were attacked by a black bear in North Carolina on Wednesday while they were having a picnic. iStock