The Azalea Hills community is abuzz after a resident spotted a black bear wandering through the neighborhood Wednesday morning.
“I was scared to death,” admitted neighborhood resident Melissa Stembridge when she saw the moderate-sized black bear lumbering near her house just after 8 a.m. “It’s not something you see every day. Our neighborhood is very busy and my fear is there are children and elderly who live here.”
Azalea Hills is a densely populated, but rural, subdivision located at Mud Creek near Rock Island. The neighborhood is surrounded by dense forest and is only a few miles from Rock Island State Park.
Thinking the bear might do harm, Stembridge contacted the sheriff’s department. However, the bear had disappeared into the woods by the time deputies arrived.
Realizing her claim of seeing the bear might not be taken seriously, Stembridge got some hard evidence before the animal wandered off.
“I knew I had to get a picture for anyone to believe me,” she said, adding it was hard to keep her cellphone still. “It took me three times to hold my phone still enough to take the pictures.”
Stembridge posted her pictures on Facebook. The resulting stir and another sighting the same day by a motorist in the area prompted a call to the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency.
According to the TWRA, no action can be taken unless the bear becomes threatening or destructive. TWRA officers would then tranquillize the bear and have it removed to another area of the state.
The TWRA says bears are actually not that unusual on the Cumberland Plateau. However, bears are not as common here as in East Tennessee. Anyone seeing the bear is urged not to approach it. Do not try to pet it or feed it.
Instead, you can contact the TWRA office at 1-800-262-6704.