PLACES TO VISIT Plymouth—Part Two: The Black Bear Festival

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Some might think that Plymouth is in the middle of nowhere because it is off the beaten path. But its location happens to be its big advantage: situated between the nearby Pocosin Lakes Wildlife Refuge, the Roanoke Wildlife Refuge, and Pettigrew State Park, Plymouth finds itself smack dab in the middle of the greatest biodiversity in North Carolina. It is the seat of Washington County, cited by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as having the biggest black bears on the planet as well as the greatest density of wild bears in North America. Mild winters, abundant crops, and extensive forests and swamps are the reason that 700 lb. black bears are not uncommon. Some have even been seen sniffing around Water Street before swimming across the river to swampy Huff Island.

Besides the bears, the wildlife refuges are a permanent home to alligators, foxes, bobcats, possums, river otters, minks, and wolves, and 250 species of birds. They also are a stop to over 100,000 snow geese, ducks, tundra swans, and other migratory birds who take up temporary residence before resuming their migrations.

If you can, try to put Plymouth on your travel itinerary June 2-4, when the town will host its 3rd annual Black Bear Festival. It offers bear tours on public and private property that guarantee you will see many wild bears. You can also see captive bears and wolves in town, as well as many species of birds. The festival features events such as a 5K “Run with the Bears,” a Bear Necessities Paddle, the Bear Fest Pageant, a Baby Bear Contest, storytelling, live music, food and crafts vendors, and fireworks. Young and old can enjoy Knockerball, Fish for Fun, free boat rides on the river, a classic car show, a wooden boat show, carnival rides, and more.

Last year the festival received four awards from the NC Association of Festivals & Events, including “Event of the Year.” More than 14,000 people came from 12 states and several foreign countries; the result is that Plymouth is becoming known as Bear Town, USA.

If you’re interested in getting more information on the bears, but can‘t be there for the bear festival, visit Bear-Ology, a black bear discovery center, which is part of God’s Creation Wildlife Museum at 111 Water Street. Most impressive are two mounted black bears from the area that weighed over 700 lbs. The museum also has four galleries of mounted animals from Alaska to Africa, including a lion, a rhino head, a moose, many species of antlered wildlife, and a collection of North Carolina predators.

If you need a little rest, the museum shows a 17-minute film on bears in a 30-seat theatre with state-of-the-art Blue Ray Surround Sound. As Tom Harrison, Plymouth’s Director of Tourism, says, “Plymouth is where traffic ends and adventure begins.”