Photo via Sandy Davis/Facebook - A row of bears set up on the porch swing of Three Rivers resident Sandy Davis as part of the “bear hunt” phenomenon sweeping the area. The objective of the “bear hunt” is for people to set out stuffed bears or other stuffed animals either in a window, door or porch, and kids who travel around with their families in their cars or walking try to spot as many as they can.

Local community curing kids' coronavirus blues with 'bear hunt'

THREE RIVERS — A bear hunt is happening in Three Rivers and around St. Joseph County, and everyone is invited.

No, it’s not a hunt for actual bears, but a fun way to keep families engaged while schools are closed, lockdowns are in place, and parents are looking for fun activities to do with their kids during the day.

The basic idea of these neighborhood “bear hunts” is simple: People put a stuffed bear or other stuffed animal in either a window, door or front porch, and families who go on drives or walks try to spot as many as they can.

The premise was inspired by the 1989 children’s book “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt,” written by English author Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. It tells the onomatopoeic story of a group of kids and their dog venturing through different obstacles to hunt a bear, only to come face-to-face with one and run away safely back home.

These “bear hunts” have become popular not just around Michigan or the United States, but all around the world while the pandemic is ongoing. That includes the Three Rivers area, where quite a few residents have participated in the effort after hearing about it on Facebook.

“It’s just a fun thing for parents and for kids,” Patti Raver, who has a few bears set up around her house, said. “It’s another bonding thing for kids. Even if my daycare kids can’t see me, they can drive by my house and say, ‘There’s the bears!’”

Three Rivers resident Sandy Davis, who set up rows of bears on her front porch swing and in her window at her house, said she was curious to find out more after seeing it on Facebook as well, and has been enjoying it so far.

“I heard it was only just for the kids, and I’m like, ‘Well, I’m a kid at heart,’” Davis said. “It’s something for the kids to do, and I think the parents have enjoyed it just as much as the kids.”

The main gathering spot for the “bear hunt” in the area is a public Facebook group called “We're Going on a Bear Hunt: Southwest Michigan,” administrated and coordinated by St. Joseph resident Joy Cribley. She said she got the idea to start the group when her sister invited her to a similar group in her native Ohio.

“My sister had it back there and they invited me to a group there, and I thought, ‘Well gee, I'd really like to get that going in this area,’ because I wanted something here for my grandkids,” Cribley said.

Cribley started the group on March 28, and it has exploded in popularity. As of Tuesday, there are over 8,300 members of the group, from St. Joseph and Battle Creek to Sturgis and South Haven. She said she was “shocked” that the group has gotten as big as it had, and said it also restores her faith in humanity.

“It sounds like a cliché, but to see how many people are out there who are willing to step in and do stuff for the kids, and to see even the adults, the joy and satisfaction we get out of doing this and out of watching the kids doing it, it's been awesome,” Cribley said.

Cribley said she hopes more people and businesses will get involved with the effort, saying it’s relatively easy for people to participate either way.

“It's something everyone can do. It doesn't matter if you're extremely wealthy or you don't have two pennies to rub together, you can do this. You can go out and count teddy bears or put out bears,” Cribley said. “It makes you feel like you're doing something, especially when you see people stop in front of your house and the kids point and you see them smile, it makes your day.”

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 23 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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