BIG BEAR LAKE, CALIF., SEPT 8—If I ever needed an excuse to leave the flatlands behind for a jaunt into the mountains, the 17th annual Run for the Grizzlies was it. Yet once again the timing was tempting fate. Not from fire, as in previous years, but in the form of weather with predictions of thunderstorms. We shall see…

The construction at the Highway 38/18 split at the dam had realigned and widened the transition to Big Bear City and surrounding communities. The streets, gravelly turnouts and soft shoulders are being blacktopped, making the roads much safer.

Standing united in support for the alpine animals
Standing united in support for the alpine animals

The enticing smell of burgers already on the grill greeted my nose even before I found a parking spot behind Chad’s Place, which was filled with vendors and riders eager for the poker run that loops around the lake. This year it’s clockwise, which means if I want any breakfast goodies from the second checkpoint at the Mountain Brewery I won’t have time to see any feeding activity at the newly renamed Big Bear Alpine Zoo (BBAZ, formerly the Moonridge Zoo). Some riders were debating which direction to ride and the possibility that the first checkpoints might close before they reached them.

As I started out I overheard a lively conversation among several riders, one criticizing the other for trying to accommodate a spare helmet in his small saddlebags. “You’re suppose to be empty when you come up so you can take stuff back!” His friend countered that the helmet was, “In case I get lucky!” To that, their female companion proclaimed, “Chivalry is dead! Take the ticket!”

After only three cards my poker hand was already a total loss, but I enjoyed the smooth ride around the lake on the new blacktop. Approaching from this direction I can’t recognize the spot where I helped rescue a great horned owl caught in the barbed-wire fence last year, just before the next stop at the zoo.

This is always the highlight of the run: the checkpoint brings riders up close and personal with the run’s namesakes, TuTu and her cubs Harley and Ayla. Harley’s massive head is visible above his wallow, while Ayla is in the cement pond down front with her long claws curled against the beer keg toy. With the cries of bald eagles in the background, riders could stroll along the winding paths to see the other animals—my favorite being the cougar sisters Cascade and Canyon who were orphaned in 2002 when a goat rancher shot their mother. Hand-raised at the zoo, they can never be released into the wild.

Run for the Grizzlies sponsors Tom, Joy and Jack take a timeout from their hard work
Run for the Grizzlies sponsors Tom, Joy and Jack take a timeout from their hard work

You couldn’t miss the huge banner welcoming one of the newest arrivals, Pooh the black bear. Pooh was to be euthanized because he ate $8,000 worth of a grower’s honey, but found a forever home here. The other newbies are two boars named Ludo and Hoggle who escaped from a “canned” hunting compound. Heading back I caught the end of a docent’s short talk about their resident raccoons while also fielding questions from a small, but curious, group of visitors.

In the lobby was the spectacular concept model for the zoo’s new location at the junction of Moonridge Road and Clubview Drive, adjacent to the golf course. The zoo will expand from a crowded two-and-a-half acres to 10.5 acres, allowing the cramped pens to expand into livable habitats. The nonprofit Friends of the Big Bear Alpine Zoo are spearheading the Home For Life campaign to raise the $25 million needed to supplement limited federal and state grant money. When the 50-year lease ended in February 2010, the annual $1 rent rose to $5,000 a month! As the only alpine forest zoo specializing in native alpine animals in the entire United States, the BBAZ’s mission is to promote an understanding of alpine forest wildlife to produce harmony between humans and nature.

Service dog Roxy makes sure the patch job gets done properly
Service dog Roxy makes sure the patch job gets done properly

Each year with the help of trained docents, BBAZ offers hundreds of educational programs for school children, youth organizations, families and visitors from around the world. Endangered and threatened species are among the zoo’s wild, but non-releasable, inhabitants. The animals represent 80 different alpine and sub-alpine species, predominantly native to California. They are extremely proud that 90 percent of all animals brought to them for rehabilitation are successfully released back into their native environment. Donations and more info is available online at or

Back at Chad’s my poker hand could only be improved if they were judging on paw-print stamps used at the checkpoints. I picked up my run shirt and picked through a box of key fobs and bottle openers before trying my luck for the raffle prizes. People were comparing weather reports they heard prior to their arrival ranging from a 30 to 80 percent chance of rain. The flyers did say “rain or shine,” but nobody likes slippin’ down the highway in the rain on a motorcycle, and the late ending at 5:00 p.m. seemed a tad optimistic. The thick clouds looming overhead were pushing the odds.

As always the Damn Good Question Band did their regular gig playing great rock ’n’ roll, as I consumed my lunch and did some people and dog watching. Roxy, a mastiff service dog, was getting a new BACA patch sewn onto her vest and relishing the normally forbidden petting from passersby. Rocco the Biker Dog is the mascot of the Leathernecks MC, and as a big supporter of various charity events (including BACA, cancer, heart, diabetes, etc.) has logged over 50,000 miles with his guardian, Roadrunner, state president of LMC. Rescued from euthanasia from an acrimonious divorce, this old Boston bull terrier lives on a boat, has a nice backyard and a girlfriend named Bree. Can’t beat that!

A couple of fat raindrops plopped on my head as promoter Jack Brandes announced the poker run and 50/50 winners. Warren Stracner won high hand with four jacks, and low hand went to Richard Kahla. Chapter Challenge went to BACA Inland Empire and Doreen Coffman was the very excited winner of the 50/50 total of $166.50. The silent auction included a handmade skinner knife and local establishments offering Funplex parties for Laser-Tag, bowling and two-night stays at La Finca motel. Organizers saw plenty of last-minute action before the auction closed at 4:00 p.m.

About 900 riders raised $11,000 for the zoo, which is hoping to break ground next year and open during Memorial Weekend 2014. Be sure to bring another animal-loving friend with you next year so we can make this home for life happen!



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