CHURCH HILL — A black bear — probably the same one that made a brief appearance in Mount Carmel Monday morning — attempted to visit Church Hill on Tuesday before having second thoughts and fleeing back into the Holston Army Ammunition Plant woods.
Around noon Tuesday, the Church Hill Police Department began receiving reports of a black bear crossing through traffic from the south side of Highway 11-W about a half mile west of the Church Hill/Mount Carmel city limits.
CHPD Detective Dustin Dean arrived on the scene in time to see the black bear crossing back across the highway toward the HAAP facility again.
Church Hill and Mount Carmel police converged on the eastbound side of the highway, where the bear had disappeared into the brush near the HAAP fence line.
HAAP Natural Resources Manager Bruce Cole also went to the scene, although he didn’t have plans on capturing the bear. Cole said he hoped to detect the bear’s location and make an assessment of the bear’s condition so he could relay that information to officers with the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency who were en route to the scene.
Cole observed an area of flattened vegetation where the bear had likely run down an embankment from the highway toward the HAAP fence line. The bear was nowhere to be found, however.
Presumably it had emerged from its home within the HAAP grounds looking for food, and then returned home through a spot in a gully where it could crawl under the fence.
Dean observed that the bear appeared to have an injured front paw.
“If we had found him laying there they (the TWRA) would have to make an assessment on how badly injured he was and determine what action they would take from there,” Cole said. “Apparently he must not be hurt bad because he’s gone — hopefully back inside (the HAAP grounds) to stay. If he’s moving it’s probably not life threatening.”
Cole said he’s spoken to park officials at Bays Mountain, where they’re aware of at least seven bears living. Cole said he believes there are two or three bears living on the HAAP grounds.
“Normally you see them come down in the fall looking for food, so I don’t know what’s going on with the sightings at this time of the year,” Cole said. “I can’t explain it unless it somehow got through a hole in the fence and couldn’t find its way back. If he’s back in there, he’s got nothing to worry about, and after this experience he should stay in there.”
Dean said the bear, which on all fours stood about thigh high to a man, was lucky it didn’t get hit crossing back over the highway.
“He was holding his left paw, but he was still running,” Dean said. “I didn’t see how he got hurt. How he got across, I don’t know. Luckily cars were stopping to let him by.”