Helen itself is a picturesque little Alpine style village in the North Georgia mountains. There are shops selling every little whatnot you can imagine, shirts, “old-time” pictures, real estate (buy or rent your own mountain cabin) and homespun art. One of our favorite places is Hansel and Gretel’s Candy Kitchen. They make the best goodies –salt water taffy, turtles, caramels, candied apples and more flavors of fudge than you could begin to imagine. The alpine feeling is enhanced by the horse drawn carriages that give rides to visitors. Z got to ride in his first carriage and feed the horse, Nelly, carrots.
While up there, we stopped at a place that purported to be a bear nature center, The Black Forest Bear Park. We expected to see one or two black bears (Georgia’s native species) in a nice tended area. We were horrified by what we saw. In this small building set off of Main Street, there are 16 adult bears in an enclosure that is smaller than half a football field. There are eight cement enclosures where half the bears are allowed out at a time. They look like the bottom of an empty swimming pool. We heard the guy on duty tell someone that the rest of the bears were in “dens” under the floor of the walkway that we were on. The walk way couldn’t have been 30 feet across.
Z was fascinated, but we couldn’t help look at each other in horror of how these bears were being treated. It was horribly sad to see these beautiful creatures humbled and humiliated into begging food from the visitors who tossed apples and slices of French bread. Sadly, the place isn’t breaking any laws. I can’t help but think that one day humanity will pay for it’s arrogance.