Northern Wilds Magazine

Ely Attraction Tells the Truth About Bears


Visitors to the Ely area can learn the truth about bears by visiting the North American Bear Center. The Center made its debut in May and has been met with a terrific response.
“It has been going really well,” said Donna Phalen, operations manager. “We’ve had wonderful reviews.”

The Center’s purpose is to replace myths with facts when it comes to bears.

“We do that with over 33 video exhibits that take you for a walk with the bears in the woods and you can watch them as they go through daily life,” said Phalen.

In addition, the Center offers hands-on activities, a children’s area, theater, numerous exhibits, a gift shop and viewing of live bears. The Center is home to two adult black bears, Ted, 10 years old, and Honey, 11. The newest addition is a seven-month old cub named Lucky. These bears can be observed through a glass window on the main floor wandering in the two-acre enclosure, or from an exhibit deck overlooking the area.

In addition to the video exhibits following research bears, many other displays help dispel inaccuracies about bears. For example, one display reveals many of the open-mouthed photos splashed on magazine covers are staged. These photos exist because trainers entice tame bears to look as though they are ready to attack simply by telling them to open their mouth.

The Center strives to address misplaced fear. “There are many misconceptions when it comes to bears,” said Phalen. “One is that bears growl. They do not growl… they don’t bare their teeth.”

In terms of fear, statistics and facts are provided throughout the center to put things into perspective. One such area announces that for every person killed by a black bear, two are killed by grizzly bears, 13 are killed by snakes, 45 by dogs, 120 by bees or hornets, 249 by lightning, and 32,000 are murdered.

The North American Bear Center is open year-round with limited hours in the fall and winter and welcomes special openings at anytime for groups of 15 or more. Even during the hibernation period, visitors can still visit the Center’s exhibits and view the bears through web cams set up in the dens.

Typically, bears begin hibernation in October. “One of the interesting things we’re anxious to find out is if they den in the two small cement bunker dens which is similar to what they were raised in, or if their instincts take over and they make their own dens in the two acres they have access to,” said Phalen.

Admission is $8.50 for adults and teens, $7.00 for seniors, $4.50 for children 3-12 and children under 3 and members are free. There are special group rates (15 or more.) Numerous exhibits, activities, interactive experiences and “best in bear” films are included in the price of admission. The Center is located on Highway 169, one mile west of Ely. For more information, visit

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