Ely is a long way from just about everywhere. But, when it comes to the Internet Super Highway, Ely is in the center of the action.
Ely’s social network friends proved their abilities by winning $100,000 for Bear Head State Park and the title “America’s Favorite Park” in Coca Cola’s “America Is Your Park” campaign which ran from July 29 to August 31.
“We estimate some 200,000 people follow our bears on Facebook, visit our website, and follow our radio collars. They love these bears and felt it would be good to support the park where the bears roam,” said Lynn Rogers, wildlife biologist and Chairman of the North American Bear Center in Ely.
These tech-savvy friends have experience with online contests. They managed to get Ely named America’s Coolest Small Town in a national contest sponsored by Budget Travel with such other small towns as Egg Harbor, Wis., Cloverdale, Calif., and Saugatuck, Mich..
They won another $100,00 grant from J. P. Morgan/Chase Community Giving’s online fund drive for the Bear Center.
Interest in the Bear Center grew from a Lily-the-Black-Bear’s Facebook page started by a supporter in South Africa. Once the center started posting to the page and added a live den-cam showing Lily giving birth and caring for her cups. The Facebook fans grew to number 112,000.
The week the cub was born, an NBC Today Show feature made Lily the Black Bear the most popular search item on the Google search engine for one day.
This online attention helped the center raise another $380,000 to reduce their $700,000 debt.
Deb Gruhlke and her husband Fred of Mankato directed the Facebook fans to vote in the Coca Cola contest.
“I heard there was a Coca Cola contest to vote for your favorite American park. My husband and I have visited Bear Head Lake State Park many times over the past 20 years. It's a beautiful park in a wilderness type setting and we enjoy everything the park has to offer.
“I'm a fan of Lily the Black Bear Facebook Site and also the Bear Center. I remembered one of the Centre’s updates mentioned that Juliet and her cubs were seen crossing the highway close to Bear Head Lake State Park. Since the State Park is in an area frequented by the research bears, I decided to see if any of Lily the Black Bear's Facebook fans would vote for the.
“When fans found out no hunting was allowed in the Park and that it is part of Lily, Hope and June's territory the voting escalated. All of the fans love the black bears and will help in any way when it involves the bears and that includes the area in which they live.
“This is just one way we feel we can help and show the public the importance of the research bears,” said Gruhlke.
Bear Head Lake State Park is just south of Ely in Eagle’s Nest Township, where many of the bears roam. The radio collar worn by the newborn bears show they often roams around the park.
Rogers says they also tried for a million dollar grant through the Kohl’s Department Store School Giving program to promote student field trips and outdoor learning but says they didn’t have enough time to get their network going.
The Center sponsored a Lily Pad Picnic where 300 people came to Ely to celebrate the Bear Center’s success.
Currently Rogers is working on legislation outlawing the killing of collared bears in research areas.
“We have people around here that tear down out signs and put down bear bait. We had been doing research on the way female bears establish their territories with a female named Sarah, but she was killed this season,” said Rogers.
“We identify our bears with colored ribbons. The Duluth News Tribune is now doing an online poll on whether we should outlaw the killing of collared bears, and we hope to take something to the next legislature,” added Rogers.
Bear Head Lake State Park received 1.7 million votes in the Coca Cola contest with the Great Smokey Mountain National Park coming in second with 800,000 votes. Bear Head has about 100,000 visitors a year while Great Smokey Mountain attracts over nine million visitors.
Park Manager, Jen Westlund, hopes the money will be used to construct a trail center where hikers, paddlers, snowshoers and families can gather before heading outdoors to explore the park on the 674-acre lake by the same name.
Westlund said the award is a testimony to the power of social networking. She thanked all the people who participated in the contest.
Rogers concluded by saying his hope is all this attention will create a deeper understanding of bears.
“Bears are not the ferocious, snarling animals you see in movies. They are really very timid animals living in a sophisticated culture,” said Rogers.
Watch the bear videos at: http://www.bear.org/website/videos.html