Eastern North Carolina home to highest density of black bears in North America

A young black bear watches warily as visitors draw close at Pocosin Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Washington County, N.C., on May 31, 2016. Washington and Hyde counties are home to more, and bigger, black bears than anywhere else in North America, and the nearby town of Plymouth will be celebrating them this weekend at the North Carolina Black Bear Festival.

PLYMOUTH, N.C.

The annual festival built around the area's large and plentiful black bears will be held Saturday and Sunday.

The Black Bear Festival began with large crowds in 2015 and has since won best event honors from the North Carolina Association of Festival Events and Entertainment.

For two days, the Town of Plymouth with a population of 3,800 swells to about 10 times that number who come for some 30 bear-themed events including a black bear theater and tours to see wild bears. Last year people came from 18 states and four foreign countries, said organizer Tom Harrison.

"No matter what age or interests a person has, almost everyone loves bears," he said.

The region is home to the densest population of black bears, and some of the largest individual bears, in all of North America, Harrison said. Individuals of 700 and 800 pounds are regularly spotted.

The bears grow larger here in the mild climate where they shorten hibernation and feast year-round on the corn and wheat grown by local farmers. Nearby Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge has thousands of acres of bear habitat.

Jeff Hampton, 252-491-5272, jeff.hampton@pilotonline.com

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