By Richard Rourk
Unicoi County residents and local business owners may be going stir crazy as everyone is staying safer at home due to COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get a smile while making essential runs across the county.
If you have driven through Unicoi County on a grocery run, or you are out for exercise you may have noticed something a little different in the windows all over the county. Teddy bears, placed in windows, have been seen all over the county so families can play a game during these stressful times.
“Going on a Bear Hunt,” has really taken hold in the region, according to Town of Erwin Communications Specialist Jamie Rice.
“This is completely a grassroots effort of all the citizens of Unicoi County that started on Facebook,” Rice said. “We had a former resident of Erwin, now living in Atlanta, who shared this movement in her neighborhood. The idea spread quickly and within 48 hours there were hundreds of bears peeking out of windows all over town.”
Brandy Bevins, who co-owns Erwin Outdoor Supply with her husband, Tyler, and Mark Lafever, acknowledged that she also heard about the hunt through social media
“We heard about the hunt through Facebook,” Brandy Bevins said. “Allie Wainwright, owner of Whisk Bakery, shared and asked the community to play along so we jumped at the opportunity.”
According to Rice, the teddy bear was a great choice for all ages.
“The teddy bear is such a familiar figure of everyone’s childhood,” Rice said. “Teddy bears bring joy to those who see them and especially in unexpected places.”
Union Street Taproom owners Michael and Tara Baker jumped on board with Erwin Outdoor Supply and Whisk Bakery as soon as they had the chance.
“We noticed several downtown homes and business owners were putting bears in their window,” Michael Baker said. “The idea is based off of Michael Rosen’s book ‘We’re Going on A Bear Hunt’.”
Michael Baker explains that it’s important not only for children, but teenagers and adults alike to have something positive and fun to do.
“We have seen groups of teenagers, families and individuals walking around enjoying the sunshine and looking for bears,” Micheal Baker said. “As a father of a toddler, it is important to remain calm during this. Our favorite pastime is to go hang out at Watauga Lake. Doing things like that with Liam has kept not only him, but me as well, calm.”
Tara Baker, who pulls double duty as a mother and teacher, also sees the importance of remaining calm and practicing calming activities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As a teacher and mother it is extremely important for me to teach my students and son to remain calm, explain what’s going on, and that there are brighter days ahead of us,” Tara Baker said.
According to Rice, the bear hunt is a great activity to practice social distancing.
“Even though we are all practicing social distancing, we are very fortunate that we can still get out and walk or drive around to get a little fresh air,” Rice said. “Kids love scavenger hunts, and this little idea is the best of both worlds.”
Bevins acknowledged that the bear hunt is a great way for families to stay fit while social distancing.
“For us, it is essential for the community to bond together and give the kids a fun and easy way to get out and get exercise, along with sunshine and fresh air,” Bevins said. “I would love to see other activities for kids to join in on. A community egg hunt in which businesses and homes will have eggs placed in windows could be a good social distancing activity as we head into spring.”
According to Bevins, these activities bring hope for the future.
“All of these things can be done while spending quality time with kids and social distancing,” Bevins said. “These things can be fun for the young, as well as the older generations. We hope that once things start to get back to normal that the community will continue to engage in similar activities.”
Rice, who is also a mother, is trying to make the best of the uncomfortable situation.
“Enjoy the little things,” Rice said. “Pull out that big stack of board games and decks of cards that you never had time to play before, make and decorate sugar cookies, take all those plastic Easter eggs and decorate a tree in your yard, or learn a new hobby,” Rice said. “I bet you have an old instrument sitting in a closet somewhere begging to be played. There are so many free lessons online to learn to play. “
For the Bakers, they are making the best of the situation until life gets back to normal.
“We have been enjoying the Town of Erwin’s many parks, and trails,” Michael Baker said. “We also have spent lots of time on Watauga Lake as a family. We enjoy finding an island with no one on it, and throwing a ball for our dog Dasher to play with.”
Union Street Taproom is a great place to start and finish the bear hunt, to see how many you can find. Union Street Taproom remains open certain days for curbside service. For a full schedule of Union Street Taproom’s operations, please follow them on Facebook.
For updates on other businesses you may not know are still open, look up their hours online, on Facebook or give the business a call to see what hours they are open and if they are operating curbside or delivery services.