TOWNSEND, Tenn. — Appalachian Bear Rescue shows off their grounds for one day and one day only once a year; however, the only kind of bear at ABR right now is the fuzzy stuffed animal kind.
Normally, the rescue in Blount County takes in and rehabs orphaned or injured bear cubs who need help, and then they release them back into the wild.
For the past few years, a handful of people come to get an up close and personal look at the facility minus the bear cubs because of a TWRA permit agreement.
The tours are a pretty big deal to people who follow the rehabilitated bear cubs on Facebook intently, according to Assistant Curator David Whitehead.
"We have people who follow us daily and people who can't wait to see what each bear is doing each day," Whitehead explained.
The tour revealed the nonprofit has come a long way since it was founded two decades ago.
"Since its early days in '96, when we just had two enclosures, we started out with barely having enough money to feed the bears," Whithead admitted.
They've gone from barely scraping by to now having four enclosures, working to establish a fifth, and are planning to break ground on some new cub houses very soon.
"We have found that the cub house we have, once the bear enters the cub house, we're really able to keep a hands-off approach and feed from a distance so the bear doesn't really see us feed it," Whitehead detailed.
The rehabilitation center focuses on making the transition to the wild easier for the bear cubs and yearlings.
That hands- off approach was enforced in the last year too, when a grant from Lush Cosmetics helped them install cameras in the enclosures
'It's helped us a lot in tracking what they do during the day and how they utilize the enclosures but also just keeping track of them and making sure they're okay,' Whitehead explained.
ABR may not have cubs right now, but they could get a call at any minute to rescue one in need.
If you want to check the place out, you'll have to bear with them. They don't start tours again until next year.