In this time of fear and isolation, a new craze is sweeping across communities to provide a bright spark of fun for kids of all ages. Inspired by Michael Rosen’s classic book “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt”, people are placing stuffed bears in windows, on front porches and in unusual locations to offer a scavenger hunt type experience from a safe distance.

When local mom Melissa Arnold saw a Facebook post about a Kentucky neighborhood’s bear hunt, she thought it would be a nice activity for families in the Mid-Ohio Valley. Arnold works for American Flags and Poles in downtown Marietta and thought it might be a way for people to remember their small business neighbors who are temporarily closed. She explains “My first thought was to get people looking in the downtown store windows and remind them to shop local. I never dreamed the Facebook group would have over 2,000 members in less than two weeks and people would be joining from outside of Marietta.”

Photo by Stacey Johnson of a big, friendly bear on 6th Street in Marietta

The Facebook group, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt! features posts and photos of people who have placed their bears or have spotted bears in Marietta, Parkersburg and beyond. People are encouraged to have fun and get creative with their bears, and some are improvising if they don’t have a stuffed bear. Other stuffed animals have been spotted, such as a big frog in Jeremiah’s Coffee House and a panda t-shirt in the window of Wit & Whimzy.

Families are encouraged to practice safe social distancing while on the search for bears, including staying at least six feet from other people. Many are driving through neighborhoods and tallying their “captures” while others are walking or riding bicycles. Although the activity may have first been created with young children in mind, people of all ages are joining the fun. One mom shared photos of all the bears her family had spotted on a recent hunt, adding that her teens seemed to enjoy it as much as the younger children.

This quickly became the perfect way to practice social distancing and put a smile on faces.

Melissa Arnold

Some residents are unable to leave their homes during this health crisis, for reasons ranging from health issues to lack of transportation to caring for young children. But if they are able to follow the hunts on social media they can still have some stay-at-home enjoyment by reading the posts and viewing the many photos. If they are able to place a bear or similar animal in their windows they can also have a part in providing smiles to their neighbors and community.

Arnold agrees, saying “As people started joining and posting their animals on the page I was getting messages about how there are people on the page who are home-bound but enjoying seeing all the fun cute animals too. This quickly became the perfect way to practice social distancing and put a smile on faces.”

Photo by Diana Goddard of a bear spotted on Keeler Drive in Devola

Tim Turner, local resident and owner of Total Reputation Management, is another enthusiastic supporter of the bear hunts as both a business owner and parent. He believes that although businesses always have many ways to connect with the community, the Bear Hunt game is something special because it involves not only storefronts and business owners but their own kids. “The Bear Hunt provides them some much needed time out of the house, and in the car with their family. They can play the game with whatever twist the family decides. My wife Bre and I wanted to make it a point-scoring game for our daughter, Ellie, so I created a tracking sheet. I shared it with the Bear Hunting FB group, and as of today, 248 people have downloaded it!”

He describes how it felt incredible driving around and seeing so many of the businesses that had to close but still participating. “It reminds me a lot of trick-or-treating, but in a safe format given our current social distancing limitations. Paying attention to social media driven events like this is crucial for local businesses, because it provides a free, fun way to connect with the community by doing something terrific for families when they need it.”

Photo by Andrea McCain Davis of a cuddly bear on Glendale Road

Whether you have young children or just young at heart, why not jump in the car and go on a Bear Hunt for yourselves? The price of gas won’t hurt your wallet and you can maintain social distancing while breaking the boredom of being isolated. You can also enjoy the hunt on foot or bicycle, just be sure to keep that safe distance. Residents and business owners alike are encouraged to place your bear or “faux bear” where it can be spotted from the street—you’re guaranteed to be rewarded with the sight of smiling faces pointing out your furry friend.

Photo by Alicia Warner of a bear spotted on Buell Island in Lowell

These are strange and difficult times indeed, but the Bear Hunt is one example of people joining together to express unity and brighten their communities. Until we all meet again in person, happy hunting!