Winter Olympics Journal

February 24, 2010 8:57 PM

Whistler bears part of Olympic pin trade


Instead of those indecipherable cartoon characters masquerading as Olympic mascots, Olympic organizers should've just chosen a bear.

Up here at Whistler, signs of black bears are everywhere. Whistler Village, along with the Olympic Athletes Village, is on land that used to be a landfill.

So this place used to have quite the bear population, and you're reminded of it every time you turn around. Signs tell you to dispose of your garbage properly, to not feed bears, to report them if you see them.

Even throwing something out, like a candy-bar wrapper, makes you think of bears. That's because the typical public trash can has not only a lid latched from underneath, but -- because the bears must've figured that out -- there's a metal grate over the can when you open it. At least there is at our bus stop, in a residential area.

(I haven't seen a bear yet, but wonder what happens when you need to throw out something bigger than a 4-by-4-inch square.)

The Whistler bear is iconic here. It's on t-shirts and all kinds of tourist knickknacks.

A community of about 100 bears lives within Whistler's municipality of 10,000 permanent residents. Naturally, development -- including that for the 2010 Games -- has squeezed the bear population and challenged locals to come up with a way to keep bears from becoming dangerous nuisances.

There's a Whistler Bear Working Group. There's a BearSmart Community Program. One local even designed a Whistler Bear pin for the Olympics, called the "Cubby." He gave away nearly 4,500 of them to school kids to raise awareness, and local grocery stores are selling them for $5 to raise money for bear rehabitation.

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