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The World-Changing, Pic-a-nicking Bear

January 11th, 2017 by Park County Travel Council | Be the first to comment!

I was sitting in my favorite nook at Legends Bookstore sipping on a latte and searching for some light reading when I happened upon an article written in 2008 by the former curator of the Buffalo Bill Museum, John Rumm, PhD. for the Buffalo Bill Center of the West’s Points West newsletter.

I know I LOL’d more than once, and my friends in the bookstore wanted to know why. I told them, and we all pulled up the article and learned the story of the country’s most beloved bear. Not Winnie. Yogi. And it is one of those timeless tales that bears (ahem) re-telling.

A postcard depicts men on a horse-drawn carriage interacting with a bear in Yellowstone National Park.

Human-bear interactions in Yellowstone National Park were common even before automobiles were permitted in the park.

Yogi the Bear was “the wise-cracking, tie-wearing, rule-breaking denizen of Jellystone National Park.” Created by William Hanna and Joe Barbera — the same guys who brought us “Tom and Jerry” – Yogi was introduced to America in 1958, at a time when the country was in “Happy Days” mode experiencing post-WW II prosperity and hitting the road to see the USA in their Chevrolets.

A Yogi Bear sign warning of the dangers of bears in Yellowstone National Park.

The National Park Service used Yogi to deliver cautionary messages about the dangers of feeding the bears.

Welcoming record visitors to Yellowstone, the National Park Service was going through a period of reinvention, but had not quite gotten it right yet. The park’s abundant population of bears was becoming acclimated to humans because of their propensity for giving them human food handouts, and dumpster-diving bruins enjoying a picnic were a common sight.

A bear inside a car in Yellowstone National Park.

During the mid-20th century, bears had become acclimated to humans and cars, and the mammals’ lack of fear resulted in many visitor injuries.

Although “Jellystone” was of course inspired by Yellowstone, the two destinations bear little resemblance beyond the name. Yellowstone is wild, with occasional forest fires and blizzards and an array of wildlife far beyond the park’s bears. The park sees millions of visitors each year, and the National Park Service works tirelessly to tell those visitors to keep their distance from wildlife. In Jellystone, the park is always sunny and never crowded.

Bear cubs look in to a car window in Yellowstone National Park.

Bear cubs were taught that approaching cars was an easy way to score some pic-a-nic food.

Here are some other important facts about Yogi the Bear that everyone should know:

  • Hanna and Barbera drew some inspiration from a 1953 Yellowstone visitor survey that indicated that while most visitors knew they shouldn’t feed the bears, many still did. And rangers rarely fined them.
  • Yogi originally was a supporting character on “The Huckleberry Hound Show,” but he was so popular he quickly advanced to center stage.
  • Yogi’s creators combined the mannerisms of the character Ed Norton in the “Honeymooners” and the facial characteristics of Yogi Berra, the Yankees catcher whose “Yogi-isms” – twisted and sometimes head-scratching phrases – are still popular today. “Hey, hey, hey..” is among them.
  • Yogi caught on around the world, with TV stations throughout Europe, Japan and Australia airing the show.
  • Yogi boosted visitation to Yellowstone, and rangers were regularly asked about the cartoon bear’s whereabouts in “Jellystone.”
  • The park service used Yogi for public service messages about the dangers of feeding bears and other wildlife, and the campaign was so effective that there was a decrease in the number of bear-related boo boos to visitors.
  • And Jellystone became – and still is – a reality. There are dozens of Jellystone Parks throughout the U.S. that delight families to this day. Each camp has an “Old Faceful Geyser” and other features borrowed from the cartoon.
  • Yogi turns 61 this year, and that’s about twice the lifespan of a Yellowstone bear. I guess that makes him a lot older than the average bear.

So, hey, hey, hey, now you know.

Two grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park.

The National Park Service urges visitors to stay at least 100 yards away from bears.

Until next time, I’m lovin’ life and looking for some more light reading here in Buffalo Bill’s Cody/Jellystone Country.


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