Startling bear encounters in the wild make for great news headlines but how often do black bears really attack people? Is it a myth that bears are deathly afraid of cats? What did Tim Treadmill (Grizzly Man) do wrong and why did his beloved bears eat him? Is that common? Can what Charlie Vandergaw is doing (living with grizzlies) be a good thing or will he be the next Tim Treadmill? How would you defend yourself against a bear attack? Are bears similar in ways to dogs? Do bears really growl or is that a media stunt where the bears were trained to look ferocious for the movies? Find answers about your bear questions and meet some real live bears at the North American Bear Center.
The Bears at the Center:
The three black bears sadly come from human homes where their owners could not care for them any longer. A huge adjustment for these bears who lived peacefully and lovingly with their owners before coming to live at the Center. Ted and Honey were raised together but their owners could not afford the insurance rates so the bears were placed at the Center. They are the largest bears in the state! Lucky is the baby at the Center and was raised from a small cub but his owners could no longer care for the rambunctious bear!
11 year old Ted is the largest bear weighing in at over 860 pounds and he looks it too! I have never seen a bear (in film or real life) that big! He was so roly poly that he barely moved while we were there. Playing with the cub, he would sit on his bottom and swivel around, swatting at Lucky. We were told that this bear loves people and will lick people’s faces. We saw more of Ted than the other bears while at the Center. He barely moved from one spot!
Lucky is the smallest bear at less than a year old and the baby at the Center. Playful and rambunctious, he was the crowd pleaser. We also saw lots of this bear too but he kept running through the enclosure, taking a swat at Ted or running through the water. He reminded me of a cat, the way his little paws would swat at anything that moved! At one point, Ted got a little fed up and actually laid across little Lucky to stop him from jumping on him! So cute, poor Lucky was mistakenly biting his own paw trying to get Ted off. He was big as a 6 year old child from my perspective!
12 year old Honey does not much like the publicity and we only saw her a short time but then she ran off into the trees. We were told that she is very skittish around anyone new and it took her a long time before she felt comfortable with staff. She weighs 550 pounds so smaller than Ted. With the three bears together, it looked like family: mama, papa, and baby bear. Honey never did play with Lucky like Ted while we were there.
Their two acre forested enclosure can be seen from the glass windows from inside of the Center or from the deck. There is a pond with greenish water for them to swim in with chipmunks, squirrels, and other small animals running around along with all kinds of birds including hummingbirds. The pond has two small waterfalls beside of it. A small short den was seen from our viewing deck. Their toys include hollowed out tree stumps and some types of platforms where they rolled around and jumped on and off. We could see Lucky run off into the trees and then come back around to the open space again. There are two fences bordering their enclosure and the deck had a roped off space underneath so the bears did not go under the deck where we stood. The bears looked healthy, happy, and very dusty….until they took a dip in the water and then they went right back and rolled around getting dusty all over again! Ted seemed very lazy while Lucky was never still!
The Deck Viewing Area:
We went up a level…to get to the deck, we had to go to an outside door, go outside, climb up some stairs one story, then walk across this deck of criss cross metal grate that made me feel a bit uneasy! It hurt our feet through our thin summer shoes. I found myself holding on to the rail for dear life while holding my daughter as it felt strange looking down and seeing the ground below! There were about 10 people on the deck when we arrived when one elderly man started having a seizure then went unresponsive. His wife called out for help and then everyone was asked to leave the deck until the EMTs came and took him to the hospital. My daughter did not notice but the other children were really worried about the man and asked questions like is he going to die? Later on they announced that the man was fine and going to the hospital to be treated.
Going back to the deck, we stayed and watched the bears play for a long time. On the deck, they have long benches up against the back wall which is nice. We stood and looked over at the bears. Taking pictures, I was worried about dropping my camera into the bear enclosure down below. Lucky and Ted were playing right below where we were standing so we had a great view! After seeing the videos inside, my daughter wanted to pet the bears!! I was thinking during the video that kids might get the wrong idea and think it is okay to pet bears! My daughter was concerned and a little nervous at Ted and Lucky play fighting, she thought they were really fighting, baring their teeth and all. Children are not allowed on the deck alone. My daughter tried to step up, climb a little to be able to see over the railing, so I can see how dangerous this could be for kids. I ended up picking her up so she could see as I didn’t feel comfortable with her peeking over and possibly losing her balance!
Bear Center Videos:
There are televisions all over playing a variety of videos. Actual bears in the wild as well as the Bear Center bears at the Center are seen throughout the year on different ones. One played over and over at the viewing area of windows is Lucky learning to walk on ice for the first time. Very cute and funny! Another was Ted meeting Lucky for the first time and how they made friends. A researcher who studies bears and documents his findings was on a few videos…one that we saw showed him getting to know a few bears at his cabin, then studying these bears over a long period of time. This is the one where my daughter got the idea to pet bears. To tell the truth, it would give anyone that idea, even me! In bear country, not a good idea to have people approaching wild bears! He had bears coming up on his cabin deck to eat birdseed and laying down on the ground to get to know the bears.
A couple of rooms off from the main room showed videos of this researcher. Smaller rooms with seating to watch the videos in a darkened theater with the sound louder than in the main room. We finished watching one and went next door to the other theater to see what was on there and it was the same video playing again. Because of the different videos playing, you hear bear vocalizations and cub whining throughout the Center. The theater has two doors leading in with small lights illuminating the space so it was not completely dark but I felt like I could see this video much better than the ones in the exhibit room. The theater video was awesome. Words can’t express how close I felt! The zooming in and different angles, the close-up shots, it was like a 3-D movie! The bear putting his nose up to the camera made me back up a bit! This was my favorite part of the experience. My daughter sat through most of it but then was bouncing seat to seat which was okay as few people were there.
Many videos are playing on large screen televisions throughout about everything from vocalizations, bear life, hibernating, fighting, playing, grazing, eating, foraging, mating, fishing, and so much more! Learn all about bear life from watching videos. There are lots of seating so you can relax while watching a video or just walk through and catch some of a video then go on to the next video to see bears in action doing other activities! Either way, lots of great information will have you knowing more about bears before you leave!
The Art and Photography:
I have never seen such beautiful artwork of bears before! From black and white art pieces to full color close-up bear pictures showing bear life in the wild. Mommies and cubs, newborn bears, grizzlies, polar bears, black and brown bears, catching fish, swimming, running, you name it, they have a picture of the bear doing it! One picture in particular that was so memorable was a bear in a stream catching a salmon…we see water droplets spraying across the photograph as well as droplets of blood from the salmon, just magnificent photography! The artwork is everywhere in the Center.
They have these large room dividers with photographs decorating each side, we walked through one by one to see all of the photographs. Each one tells where it was taken, a little about the bear, or a misconception of bears. On the baby bears, we learned how old they were in the picture or what they are doing…learning from mom, in case of danger what they are taught to do (black bears run up trees but grizzly cubs stay close to mom), and what they eat at that age.
Also pictures of what they eat from larvae to seeds. Many pictures of the seeds they eat and even their scat. We learn how researchers tell from the bear scat what the bears are eating. I am not sure if the scat on the wall were actual scat or pictures, either way, it looked real!
Other pictures include ones from the movies, training bears to look ferocious for films, and magazine pictures showing bears baring their teeth. A section tells about misconceptions of bears due to these types of media representations. My daughter was really nervous in this part and did not want to see the ferocious looking bear pictures. In one, a bear trainer is shown getting a bear to look menacing and in the next picture, we see her hugging and kissing the bear lovingly.
The Statues & Other Things :
One large bear skeleton is in the middle of the room and is so large as not to seem real! This must be a prehistoric skeleton of a bear! The life-like black bear statues look real and are posed in natural poses, some standing and some walking-like on all fours. So real that my daughter refused to take a picture with them! There are signs not to touch them. The grizzly bear statues were scary looking and looked a bit mangy! Not sure why the difference in statues, the black bear statues were cute while the grizzly ones were more ferocious looking. One display showed a mother bear getting into someone’s garbage while a baby bear is inside of a trash can peeking out. This display talked about how to lock up garbage cans to keep bears out. The statues are life size and lots bigger than we are!
Carved bear sculptures abound throughout the Center but a couple were in the kids’ play area as well. Realistic bear sculptures that were very cute! Other things at the Center include an almost destroyed sign from a trail that bears had chewed and scratched/marked. It was donated to the Center once taken down. In this section we learned about bear markings and how to tell if a bear was in the area. Bear prints are also shown at the Center.
Tucked into one corner was a large area showing pictures of bears doing various activities and buttons to press to hear bear vocalizations. We learned here that bears do not growl or at least researchers haven’t heard them actually growl but have a number of sounds according to what is going on. A number of vocalizations expressed fear! None of them sounded particularly threatening, most were huffs and puffs and grunts!
The walls have gorgeous nature scenery painted on them! Most of the room seemed unfinished and undecorated but then you notice the walls, those gorgeous floor to ceiling painted masterpieces! Stunning is the word I would use to describe the realistic nature scenes! Natural wood walls makes the space feel like a wooded area outdoors. They do have a gift shop, you can see it as you first go in but we did not enter this section at all. I saw bear stuffed animals from the entrance.
The Kids’ Play Area:
This separated room has bear sculptures, soft large stuffed bears on wooden platforms so they stood up, pictures of baby cubs, and smaller stuffed bears. A platform is raised with five steps leading up to the padded place where about twenty stuffed bears of all colors were sitting around the edges. Coloring sheets of bears were on a table with crayons. Bear scat was in a box by the door making my daughter say ewww! A dark curved small tunnel showed children what a bear cave is like with baby bears on top. There were painted walls of nature, birds, trees decorating the room. What I loved was the television had a cord running down the wall and someone placed a picture of a bear cub climbing a tree along this cord…it actually looked like the baby bear was climbing the cord…ingenious and cute as a button! The nature scenery on the walls include baby bears climbing and playing, so cute and cuddly! There is a large wooden tree structure in the corner and if you look up, a baby bear is sitting on top! When we were there, nothing was being shown on the televisions in the kids’ area.
At the entrance, there is a large piece of bear fur attached to a stump with a sign saying Pet Me. A smaller piece was inside of the kids’ area that kids could pet also. My daughter thought it was a coat at first! We took a number of pictures with the wooden bear sculptures in here as my daughter was not scared of them! One video that wasn’t playing when we were there shows a bear moving a heavy rock and then the rock is in a box under it, so kids can see if THEY can move the rock. Neither of us could move that heavy rock! Books about bears are on a shelf here too. There is a small bear skeleton in this area too.
I didn’t see many staff except when the man was having medical difficulties on the deck. The one who took our payment was nice enough and even said goodbye as we were leaving. I wasn’t so sure about his efficient manner at taking payment but I think the slow time was due to their credit card machine more than him. Another staff member was talking to some people so we sat down thinking it might be a program starting. I still don’t know if this was a program or she was just talking to some visitors to the Center. This was in front of the bear viewing glass windows. So we sat and listened to information about bears and she answered questions from people about bears. She talked about pepper spray in case of a bear getting too close and showed us hers that she wears on her belt. Then she talked about bears bluff charging and even demonstrated what this is … on me. I was sitting in the front row and she was speaking normally then all of a sudden she ran at me with her hands up and screamed. Ahhhh!! Um. Yikes! Guess I was the obvious choice as everyone else there was either elderly or small children. Give me a heart attack why don’t you?
Staff made announcements over the loud speaker quite a few times but I never could understand nor hear exactly what was said. It was a nuisance to hear a scratchy announcement so loud with all of the televisions playing videos simultaneously!
Facts About Bears:
Information on how many people have actually been killed by bears in the United States as well as the type of bear doing the attacks was on the walls. What to do if you see a bear in the wild was also covered. There is information and a video about Charlie Vandergaw as well as information on why Tim Treadmill might have been killed by grizzlies. Reasons a bear might attack as well as breaking many myths that people hold like being fearful of getting between a mother bear and her cubs…one video showed a researcher reaching in and taking a newborn cub out of a bear’s den (he did know the bear). We learned that we should speak if we run across a bear in the wild so he knows we are people and not a bear but bear attacks are so rare, we shouldn’t worry. The staff member said researchers observe bears all the time in the wild and are not bothered by watching the bears at a distance. The Center has information on all types of bears not just black bears.
The Window Viewing Area:
In this area, we could see right out into the bear’s outside enclosure at their level. They could not come to the window close…as there is a rope to keep them a couple feet away, so they are not under people’s feet on the deck. I am not sure how this rope keeps the bears out but it did! My pictures from this spot seemed a bit more fuzzy than taking pictures on the deck. I also wondered why the bears couldn’t/wouldn’t climb up to the deck or the fences by the road. This is a two way window so the bears can also see you while you are watching them. Only twice did I lock eyes with Ted as he looked up while playing but Lucky was way too busy running around and playing to look at us. There is seating by the window so even people with ambulatory problems can view the bears. The entire wall makes up this viewing area of windows. It does not give the illusion of being close to the bears like I had on the deck!
We did not see any programs when we were there. If you are interested in any program check the website to see what times they will be having them that day. Each day they have different programs at certain times. At this time, they have fourteen different programs available with a couple pending. Everything from reading bear stories to children, identifying wild animal tracks, to learning about bear behavior. Check for age ranges as some are for any age while others are specifically for older children. Some programs end with a certificate being awarded to participants.
Camp Bear Paw is for children and is a day camp in August. No date is listed on the website but it is being advertised in local papers.
The Building and Parking:
One of their taglines is not to be fooled by the exterior. That is because the exterior is nothing special. It looks like an aluminum sided building, almost like a storage building but it is huge. There are only two large pictures on the front and they aren’t that spectacular. But you can’t miss this Center while driving down the roads and kids will surely not miss it! There is a bear on the mailbox, signs before you get there saying Bear Center, then a large sign at the turn in. The parking area is spacious. When we drove up, I worried that it would be crowded as it looked like there were fifty cars in the lot. It was not that bad. Most of the people there were elderly and children and no crowds were built up in any one area. Parking is free. There are no signs as to where to enter but there is only one entrance so easy to find. To get to the outside viewing area, you have to go inside first.
Payment and Hours:
Coming in, there was a line of six people ahead of us and the line was barely moving. It took 10 minutes to pay and enter. The credit card machine seemed to slow the process plus the people ahead of us were asking about yearly prices compared to one visit prices. There is no time limit on your stay once you pay. Adults and Teens $8.50 Seniors 60+ $7.00 Children 3-12 $4.50 Children under 3 Free Members Free If you are going with a group of fifteen or more, special prices can be received but you need to call in advance. The website does not state a price for a yearly membership but if I remember correctly, it was $75 for a family membership…don’t quote me on that though!
The hours they are open vary by season: May 9 – Sept 7 daily 9:00 am – 7:00 pm Sept 8 – Nov 30 daily 10:00 am – 4:00 pm Call for off-season hours and rates (We will open for groups of 6 or more). The bears do hibernate though so I am not sure if off-season includes when the bears go into hibernation.
Can’t get to the Bear Center but want to meet the bears? That’s easy! There are webcams set up so you can watch the bears from the comfort of your own home for free! You can also watch videos of the Bear Center’s resident bears on the site too. Learn about bears and find information debunking bear myths and misinformation. Lynn Rogers PhD (the researcher on the video we watched) also has videos and information from his time studying bears. Hear bear sounds too! Want to see a video of blustering bears and bluff charges? Don’t watch this video if you have a weak heart as it made my heart pitter patter! You can report a bear sighting or check for local bear sightings (located across the United States and Canada). Very interesting! More bears are located in states where I would not think many would be! List of great bear books, slide shows, videos, and additional websites about bears are also here.
Their webstore has everything bear for sale from puppets and stuffed animals to games, DVDs, and jewelry. The text on the website can be changed to larger text easily but the videos can’t be watched full screen mode. A search engine on the site makes finding info easy. There is a contact spot to contact the Center.
From the site: The mission of the non-profit North American Bear Center is to advance the long-term survival of bears worldwide by replacing misconceptions with scientific facts about bears, their role in ecosystems, and their relations with humans. There is a huge need for accurate information about bears worldwide.
Bears have been unfairly demonized for centuries. Exaggerated perceptions of danger historically led to eradication campaigns using bounties, poison, trapping, and shooting. All eight bear species around the world are now listed as vulnerable, threatened or endangered in all or portions of their ranges. Remote habitats that once insured isolation and protection are now being occupied by people, and the attitudes of these people will determine the future of those populations.
The Bear Center is dedicated to replacing misconceptions with facts worldwide. It is also working to conserve bear habitat, stop poaching for bear body parts, rehabilitate injured and orphaned bears back to the wild, and implement methods to reduce conflict between humans and bears.
This is a newer establishment so there were many exhibits still unfinished or in progress. Lots to see and do here anyway! We felt safe watching the bears, the bears looked healthy and happy with lots of room to play in a natural habitat, and we learned a lot about bears including that cats have been known to chase away bears! I had no idea. My daughter and I learned loads about bear behavior and fell in love with the Center’s bears. Before reading about the bears, they did look intimidating but once I read about them and how they are loving with staff, I looked at them in a whole new light! I really needed this information! Since seeing my first bear in the wild, I have been really skittish about nature walks, camping, or just going out into the woods again. I can’t say I am totally over that but I do feel calmer about meeting another bear in the wild. I am an animal lover and seeing the bears eating out of researcher’s hands, it really was an awww moment! We enjoyed our visit and will visit again.