“This is cool,” said Hall, who won “Best of Show” in the festival's photography competition. His close-up picture of a frog won over some of the more accomplished adult submissions.
“But the festival is cool, too,” said Hall, 13. “I like being outdoors and taking pictures of nature. This festival is special because it not only offers a lot of fun, it offers education and stresses the importance of respecting and appreciating nature.”
There were plenty of picture-making moments over the weekend as the festival drew hundreds to downtown Cumberland and Kingdom Come State Park.
Just like the photography competition, the festival was categorically intriguing. If the snapshots of festival activities and memories could be showcased, the exhibit would be endless.
There were hundreds of festival visitors from throughout the area who came to enjoy a weekend in the black bear capital of Kentucky. A good amount of laughter was captured, first-time experiences (like shooting a bow and arrow) were recorded, and plenty of barbequed-smeared faces, sugar-coated, cotton candy smiles and hot dog-crammed cheeks presented unforgettable photo opportunities.
It didn't matter if you were downtown Cumberland or up on top of Kingdom Come State Park, the sights of festival fun were everywhere. The lights and sounds of a carnival atmosphere provided a dynamic visual. Local artisans with their mountain crafts on display provided colorful compositions, and a wide variety of center-stage singers made up an impressive portfolio of homegrown talent.
What makes the Kentucky Black Bear Festival unique is its purpose. According to Cumberland Tourism Director Diane Corriston, the festival's intent is to celebrate the remarkable comeback of the black bears, how to properly coexist with the resurgent animals, to gain further knowledge about wildlife in general, and to gain an interest in all things outdoors. At Kingdom Come State Park, officials with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, the University Kentucky Department of Agriculture and the Harlan County Extension Office, were on site to talk about wildlife. They provided glimpses into the behavior and biology of not only black bears, but other native animals such as elk and deer. Also, there were plenty of fishing, archery and hiking snapshots.
All this planning and programming came about because of one animal. The comeback of the black bear to the hills of eastern Kentucky, in particular Harlan County, has not only generated increased visitors, but a renewed interest in community pride.
“We have something to be proud of,” Corriston said. “The Tri-Cites have a lot going for it, from a historical and cultural standpoint, but now we have an added feature, and that's the attention that's been brought to our natural beauty because of the resurgence of the black bears.”
New to this year's Kentucky Black Bear Festival was the first-ever “Bear Crawl.” To add a little flare and adventure to the festival, the Harlan County Ridge Runners joined with Kingdom Come State Park's rangers in planning an ATV ride from Evarts to Cumberland.
It was a good way to end the weekend. On Saturday afternoon, a pack of four-wheelers blazed up Kingdom Come mountain, escorted by the rangers, where they later set up camp and joined others for a late-night southern rock concert.
That was the highlight of this year's festival for avid Black Bear Watcher Denny Hall.
“It's good to have education, and that's why I'm a big supporter of this festival,” said Hall, who is also Gavin's father. “But man, it's good to have fun, too. Anybody who didn't come up on the mountain to hear this band called “Reckless” missed one of the funnest nights ever had in Harlan County. It made me feel 20 years younger.”