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Tiny State Park Wins National Contest

September 10, 2010 by   - () Leave a Comment

Moon over Bear Lake, Ely, Minn.

Boosted by an Internet campaign that went viral, a state park in far northeastern Minnesota was named “America’s Favorite Park” on Thursday (Sept. 9) in a contest that earned it a cool $100,000.

Bear Head Lake State Park near Ely handily outpolled every other state and national park in the nation in the Internet poll sponsored by the National Park Foundation and Coca-Cola.

Although the park had just 101,000 visits last year, it garnered nearly 1.7 million votes of 5.7 million cast, easily topping the runner-up, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. People could vote as often as they wanted.

“We had a lot of visitors coming in and saying they’ve been voting hour after hour,” said park manager Jen Westlund. She said the Department of Natural Resources will use the $100,000 to build a three-season trail center where hikers, skiers and others can gather before and after exploring the park.

The park has an annual working budget of about $226,000.

Westlund said she was “completely flabbergasted” by the win.

So how could the park beat out national parks like Yellowstone or Great Smoky Mountains? The credit goes to Ely-area bears, particularly Lily and cub Hope, who became Internet stars earlier this year via a webcam that recorded Hope’s birth.

The North American Bear Center in Ely made the bears famous and was back in the news this week after another one of its research bears was killed by a hunter. The bears’ Facebook page has 112,000 “friends” and another 90,000 people follow them at the center’s website, www.bear.org, said researcher Lynn Rogers. He asked those supporters to vote for the local park, home to one of his research bears.

“None of this would have happened without our 200,000 fans,” Rogers said. “When they put their minds to something, they have tremendous power. I’m astounded.

The DNR “would have had nothing without (our supporters).”

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