I fell in love with Franconia Notch State Park from the moment I arrived. The park is full of scenic mountain trails, beautiful lakes, and an abundance of wildlife. In my time here, I have noticed that it is the wildlife, especially the large mammals, that particularly fascinates most visitors that come through.
On my first day arriving in the park, one of the first things I learned that bears are not an uncommon sight in Franconia Notch, especially in the area of the Lafayette Place Campground and Hiker Information Cabin, where I would be spending much of my time. Everyday, park visitors come into the Hiker Information Cabin, where I work, asking about the chances of seeing a large animal during their visit, and what to do in such a situation. Particularly when it comes to bears, it is a combination of both fear and curiosity that most people experience. I am not completely unfamiliar with bears, having seen a few black bears while growing up in Pennsylvania and in my time working in Wyoming last year. However, I was excited to learn that I was located in such a hot spot for these large mammals.
After some further research about black bears in this part of the state, I learned that Cannon Mountain has the highest concentration of them in all of New Hampshire! I figured it would not be long until I ran into one of these animals for myself. I have also heard many tales from campers about a particularly bold bear who hangs around the area searching for a free meal at campsites that do not practice proper bear-proofing techniques. As an interpreter, it is my job to educate the public about the local wildlife. It is important for both myself and Monica (my fellow Discover the Power of Parks Interpretive Ranger at Franconia Notch) to spread the word to campers and hikers about correctly storing their food and other “smellables” (dishes, wrappers, scented soap, etc) while camping, and what to do if you encounter a bear on the trail.
Even though black bears are usually scared of humans and will typically head the other way when they hear us approaching, many people still find it difficult not be nervous when spending time outdoors in bear country. Even as someone who spends a lot of time teaching others to remain calm and not flee when they see a bear, I have to admit that, just like everyone else, I have to fight the urge to run the other direction when I see one up close.
I have been spending my free time hiking as many of Franconia Notch’s beautiful trails as I can, and I would be lying if I said that the thought of running into a bear was never on my mind. The important thing to remember is that black bears are usually not interested in seeking out and injuring innocent hikers, despite what their intimidating body size may make us assume. So, I try to act just as I tell others to: I stay aware of my surroundings and maintain a reasonable amount of caution, but I do not let myself get too nervous. Instead, I try to spend more of my time observing and appreciating the gorgeous habitats that I am exploring, and less time worrying about what big animal may be hiding around the corner.
The great thing about Franconia Notch is that there is a lot more to appreciate than just the large, charismatic mammals such as bears and moose. Among many other things, I have been lucky enough to come across large stands of wildflowers such as Orange Hawkweed. I have been able to observe a Luna Moth which spent some time perched on the side of the Hiker Information Cabin. And, my favorite of all, I have had the opportunity to see some amazing views; rewards for my treks up to places such as Bald Mountain, Mount Pemigewasset, and the ever-so popular Franconia Ridge.
As far as black bears go, I have not seen any up close since arriving to the park last month. I have only seen a couple of the local bears at a distance, which is good enough for me!