Creola residents Joel and Leah Pike were spending a few days in their favorite vacation spot, the Smoky Mountains, in search of a bear.
They spent all day Saturday hiking and horseback riding, hoping to catch a glimpse of the majestic creature. They saw some deer and turkey but were having no luck with a bear.
Then, the Pikes said, they saw a large black bears in the place that least expected it – the lobby of the Appalachian Lodge in Gatlinburg, Tenn. Joel Pike said they had just returned from a dinner show in Pidgeon Forge and were planning to get some of the Appy Lodge’s famous apple cider.
“The bear kept going up to the hot apple cider, kind of smelling it. And then he went up to the Christmas tree, was smelling the Christmas tree,” he said. “And then, he was kind of playing with the doors, going, going up to the doors; the doors opened up. The bear would go outside; the bear would come back inside. He was going in and out, in and out. And then finally, he started looking at me.”
Pike estimated the bear was 400 to 500 pounds. Leah Pike said she thought her husband was pulling her leg when to tried to point out the bear.
“He’s always messing with me,” she said. “He’s always playing with me,”
Joel Pike said he was taken aback.
“I was startled at first,” he said.” I mean, I wasn’t expecting that.”
Pike said the furry visitor caused a stir among the guests. And a Facebook post drew thousands of views. He said the bear, itself, was more curious than menacing.
“The bear, he wasn’t growling or nothing. He was just looking at me – he was mainly in there to smell that apple cider, ’cause you could smell it,” he said. “They got some of the best apple cider around, and it’s good on a cold night. And I guess the bear got a whiff of it, and then come down there and come inside there where we was at.”
Joshua Goldston, the manager of the Appy Lodge, said that was the second time the bear wandered into the hotel. At least, he said, the staff presumes it was the same animal, a male black bear.
“We’ve had multiple incidents of this bear coming in for a quick peek,” he said.
That is one of the consequences of being so close to wilderness, Goldston said.
“We do, occasionally (see bears),” he said. “But not too often. … They’re used to mind of being around people.”
Pike said the clerk shut off the automatic door after the bear walked outside. Pike said he later heard that the bear poked his nose inside the window of a van parked outside the hotel and then walked over to a pancake restaurant across the street to look through the Dumpster.
Goldston said the Appy Lodge has taken steps to avoid a repeat bear visit, including locking the back door and ordering bear-proof trash containers.
Pike said he was not too concerned about the bear but did make sure he knew where the exit was in case he had to make a quick dash.
“I’m just an old country boy,” he said. “I’m used to wildlife.”