Tuesday, May 21, 2024

In Glacier, a much different bear story

Daily Inter Lake | November 17, 2021 6:10 AM

“Where’s Teddy?”

Ben Pascal’s heart nearly stopped when his 5-year-old daughter Naomi asked him this simple question on their way back from a trip to Glacier National Park in October 2020. The teddy bear, a gift sent to Naomi in an Ethiopian orphanage before she even met her adoptive family, could not be missing.

The small brown bear that had accompanied Naomi on later trips back to Ethiopia, Rwanda, Croatia and Greece had been with them when they set out along the Hidden Lake Trail on Logan Pass just a few hours earlier, but was now nowhere to be found.

The late hour and steady snow meant a trip back to the pass to search for the bear that night was impossible, and matters only became worse when the park announced the snowstorm marked the closing of the Going-to-the-Sun Road for the season.

“We started looking through the car, trying to figure out where it was, but it was gone. It was then that we realized what must have happened,” Pascal said.

With no way to search for the bear, the Pascals did the only things they could. They made a report with the park about the missing bear, put a plea on Facebook for people to be on the lookout for the beloved stuffed animal, and they waited.

“We figured, well, maybe in the spring when everything melts, maybe then someone will find him,” Pascal said.

Many Facebook users responded, saying they would keep an eye out for the stuffed bear. Nona Windham of Michigan even posted a photo of Teddy lying on the side of the trail on the afternoon when it was lost, joking it was the only bear she had seen in the park that day, but the Pascals held little hope they would ever see the bear again.

PARK LAW enforcement ranger Tom Mazzarisi has seen many strange items left on trails during his years patrolling Yellowstone and Glacier, but something about the wet, sad-looking bear half covered in snow caught his attention.

As he and his fellow rangers worked to remove the temporary signs from the Hidden Lake Trail after its closure that cold October morning, something about the lonely bear just called to him.

“It was kind of odd. It was so weathered that part of me thought someone had found it somewhere else on the trail and had just left it there. It was just weird,” he said. “That bear just had a lot of character. It was so well worn that it looked as if it had been on that trail forever, even though it was sitting just off the path. You could just tell that bear had a story to tell.”

As his day’s work on the trail came to a close, Mazzarisi made a fateful decision.

“We don’t normally turn in things that have little to no monetary value, but there was just something about this bear,” Mazzarisi said. “It was a cool little teddy bear and I love bears, and I also needed a mascot for my truck, so I grabbed him.”

With no knowledge of the Pascal family’s search for the bear, Mazzarisi renamed the stuffed toy Caesar and made him his constant companion inside his patrol vehicle on its travels throughout the park.

Even Mazzarisi’s fellow rangers got to know Caesar as he sat on his usual perch on the truck’s dashboard, facing out the windshield as if taking in the wonders of the park. The small bear even “hibernated” in Mazzarisi’s apartment in Kalispell during the winter break from his park duties, but returned with him when the spring season came in April.

A regular topic of discussion with visitors who noticed him, no one ever put it together that Caesar was the Pascal family’s missing bear.

“That teddy bear saw a lot of bear jams, traffic stops and a little bit of everything a law enforcement ranger does,” Mazzarisi said of Caesar’s adventures.

AS USUAL, Caesar was sitting on the dash one day in early October of this year when a fellow ranger borrowed the truck to patrol Siyeh Pass, which had been closed the previous day due to grizzly bear activity.

Once again, fate intervened.

The Pascal family’s friend, Terri Hayden, had been there almost a year prior when Teddy had gone missing. She had been watching the kids while the rest of the family continued to the end of the Hidden Lake Trail.

“The bear was so small that I didn’t even notice that Naomi had it with her,” Hayden said. “We had almost gotten back to Bigfork when I heard Naomi ask ‘Where’s Teddy?’ My first response was, ‘Uh oh, who is Teddy?’”

When she agreed to take her sister and niece into the park in early October of this year, she was determined to come home with the missing bear.

“That day, I woke up and I said ‘God, if that bear is to be found, please let him be in my hands before I leave the park today,” Hayden recalled.

After a quick stop at the Apgar visitor center to see if the bear was still listed as missing (it was), Hayden and her family continued into the park.

With her niece, Heather, battling cancer and unable to walk very far, Hayden figured a quick trek along the beginning of the Siyeh Pass trail would be perfect. It was as they were backing out to leave the parking area of the closed trail that Heather saw it.

“Is that Teddy?”

Hayden couldn’t believe her eyes. The bear sitting in the dash of the ranger’s patrol truck looked like Naomi’s missing bear, but could it possibly be true?

After a quick cellphone photo and a drive to St. Mary to gain cell reception to send a text, Naomi’s mother confirmed the bear in the truck did, indeed, appear to be Teddy.

THE SCRAMBLE was on. Hayden quickly returned to the truck, but still finding no one nearby, she left a note on the vehicle and headed to the Logan Pass Visitor Center. There, she told the other rangers on duty of her discovery.

The rangers instantly recognized the bear as Caesar and, knowing the story behind the bear, the pieces began falling into place.

Knowing the ranger was unlikely to return to the vehicle anytime soon, one of the rangers volunteered to wait at the truck, retrieve the bear and meet them with it at Apgar on the family’s way out of the park.

When Hayden returned to Apgar, there was the ranger, holding Teddy, along with a ranger’s hat and badge — the park’s gifts to Naomi.

“I just started crying,” Hayden said. “I couldn’t believe we had gotten the bear back after a whole year.”

Teddy was on his way home.

A FACETIME call from Hayden to Naomi the following morning delivered the good news.

“I was so excited when I found out they had found him,” Naomi, now 6, said. “I was sitting in a chair and I was just moving my feet all around.”

Teddy was carefully placed in a Postal Service Priority Mail box, along with a few caramels to sustain him for the journey, and shipped back to Naomi and the Pascal family in Jackson, Wyoming.

The news spread quickly, with tens of thousands learning about the story from Glacier National Park’s Facebook page and others from local television reports.

Teddy was famous.

“The response on Facebook was amazing, people telling us that it is such a great story of kindness and hope. It’s neat to be a part of that,” Pascal said. “In a world that is filled with so much bad news, it was great to be a part of some good news.”

With the help of a kindly park ranger and a family friend who never gave up hope, the bear that had been around the world is back home after another amazing adventure.

“A lot of effort went into getting the bear out of the truck and on its way back home to Naomi,” Mazzarisi said. “It was a pretty serendipitous situation. A lot of little things went right to get that little bear back where it belongs. I’m just glad I could be a part of it.”

As for Hayden, she can finally rest knowing Teddy is back where he belongs.

“He was lost on my watch, but he also came back to us on my watch as well,” she said. “It’s funny how things work out.”