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By Bryan Mitchell

One night, about a week ago, black bears all over Asheville plotted, conspired, and rampaged this city in the mountains. It was the first chilly evening of the fall and it signaled the beginning of a season which leads to many bear-human interactions. Car alarms were set off, trash bins turned over, refuse scattered everywhere, and graves dug up.

Yes, graves were dug up.

How do we show our furry neighbors hospitality? After all, we have invaded their territory, not the other way around. Since Haw Creek Commons is located in a valley bordered by high ridges, the prevalence of bears is great. The Commons’ trash bins are on the regular route of a few of these neighbors. A 400+ pound bear and a much younger, smaller bear roamed our neighborhood for the past several years. Last week, it was a mama bear and her three cubs ambling down the street during the daytime. These friends have scattered many of our staff hours by littering the landscaped areas and woods surrounding the property with trash.

We devised a multi-part strategy to be as hospitable as possible to the bears. Our landscape plan has intentionally included a number of edible bushes and trees sought after by the bears. We hope they find these more natural foods to their liking. There are service berries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries growing in the community garden as well as in the revamped wooded area behind the retreat house. Mushrooms and various roots and tubers are planted all over the property. We also prefer the bears snack on these succulent foods rather than our egg-laying chickens!

Since our commercial kitchen is now open, we do have more smelly packaging attracting the bears’ attention. Soon, we will place all this trashy goodness out of the reach of our neighbor bears by installing a bear-proof dumpster. Hopefully these changes will encourage the bears to return to a diet more fitting of their kingly presence.

In case you are hesitating about a visit to Haw Creek Commons, let me assure you that the bears have very little interest in living humans. In fact, they prefer nonliving humans…kind of. Let me explain. Last week we discovered a muddy, three foot hole directly over the grave and in front of the gravestone in the cemetery adjacent to Haw Creek Commons. The cemetery has markers dating back to the early nineteenth century.

Upon examination, the bottom of the hole contained many, many active yellow jackets. The perimeter of the hole had evident claw marks from a very large bear which was obviously in pursuit of a buffet of honey and comb. There is no telling how the bear made out, but we can assuredly say she or he was determined. The local television news channel arrived the next day to cover the story. This was not the biggest story in town but was of interest nonetheless. In the meantime, we will continue to try to be better neighbors to our resident bear population and the humans who make up our community here at Haw Creek Commons.

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