By Vaughn Samuels, Clay County Resident
As a kid, I can remember watching shows like “Grizzly Adams” where an American hero built a cabin in the mountains, lived off the land, and made friends with a California Grizzly he named after Benjamin Franklin. And with the failsafe recipe of History-sprinkled-with-Hollywood, it didn’t seem all that far-fetched that a grizzly bear could become a boy’s best friend. “Ben the bear” seemed more like a glorified family dog that you could teach to do tricks, and was one of Hollywood’s many charming depictions of these beautiful behemoths and their curious nature.
Whether you are one to see the likable doggish qualities in bears, or one who would prefer to admire them from afar, bears are universally fascinating creatures because of their intelligence, mannerisms, and size. In Alabama we are fortunate to have a presence of Black Bears, smaller and less aggressive than the Brown Bears of the West. And East Alabama in particular has apparently become “The New West” to the bear community, as more Black Bears are migrating downward from the Smoky Mountains. Black Bear sightings are on the rise in our neck of the woods as these bears have begun to range our way, with most being spotted around the Talladega Forest and Cheaha Mountain.
One Clay County woodsman in particular recently noticed evidence of a new bear presence here, and set out to capture footage of it with a game camera. Along the foothills of the Talladega Forest, Mr. David Lockridge came upon a series of large, overturned rocks and clawed bark that had the signature of a bear searching for food. Placing his game camera in an opportune spot, he was eventually able to capture this video before the bear moved onward.
Bear sightings are gaining speed in Calhoun, Cherokee, Clay, Cleburne, and Talladega Counties, and are projected to climb in Chambers, Coosa, Randolph, and Tallapoosa Counties as their migration from the Smoky Mountains continues to range southward and eastward. At Cheaha State Park, visitors and staff members have spotted an entire family of adult and baby bears roaming through the grounds. Being the wild animals that they are, the bears tend to stick to their own schedule and are unpredictable in when they will show (at least by human inklings). Cheaha State Park thus remains the most likely place to see a bear, because of its high location and natural habitat.
While there is no guaranteed spot to see a Black Bear firsthand, the most probable way for would-be Greenhorns is to follow the bear’s lead and “Go South, Young Man”!
(Views expressed are that of the author Vaughn Samuels, and not of any employer.)