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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Nature puts on a show at Bearadise Ranch


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By Jeff Komanetsky / Boston.com
Ah, the lives of celebrities. They swim. They eat. They roll their fur in the mud.
At least, that's life at Bearadise Ranch in Myakka City, Fla., where visitors can learn all about the famous Welde family bears by watching them revel at this 15-acre nature reserve.
When the bears aren't off touring or appearing in film productions such as Tim Burton's “Big Fish” and Disney's animated “Brother Bear,” they spend their days showing off more natural talents in the care of ranch owners Johnny and Monica Welde.
“They're trained to do a lot of things,” Monica Welde says. “But we want our bears to be bears, because that’s what they are. When people come to Bearadise Ranch, they get to view them swimming in a lake and just keeping in tune with nature.”
Licensed by the Florida State and Wildlife Commission and the Department of State Agriculture, the ranch was established to generate public awareness for bear conservation and habitat preservation. It features several acres where the bears roam free—and plenty of spots for guests to observe and take photos. “Families can spend several hours here,” Welde says. “If you love watching bears, you won’t get bored, that’s for sure.”
One of the best ways to see the bears up close is to take-in the educational bear show, where guests begin to know each bear as an individual. “They’re very intelligent animals,” Welde says. “They’re all different and they have their own distinct personalities. We like showcase their intelligence, strength, agility, and beauty.”
After the show, guests can fill up on lunchtime classics like hotdogs, pulled pork sandwiches and lemonade. The cost is covered in the $8 park entrance fee ($12 for adults), which also includes the museum and gift shop.
What's a favorite take-home item from the shop? Stuffed teddy bears, of course. “Kids love bears, that’s for sure,” Saya Monica. “I guess they relate to them because they’re so humanlike, in many ways.”
Bearadise Ranch is just one of the family-friendly attractions in the area. Visitors also explore the nearby Dakin Dairy Farms for a behind-the-scenes look at how a real dairy farm operates. The Rosa Fiorelli Winery, a family-owned vineyard and winery just a few miles down the road, is a favorite of the adults.
Best of all, according to Welde, some of Florida's finest natural settings surround the ranch, offering everything from hiking and boating to bird watching. “We’re in between Myakka River State Park and Lake Manatee State Park, so there’s a lot for outdoors enthusiasts to do.”
The location is a perfect fit for a family so committed to the bears and their habitat. It’s a connection that goes back to when Johnny’s grandfather brought his fascination with bears over from Norway in the 1940’s.
Today, the legendary Welde bears act as ambassadors with the hope of a true Hollywood ending for their friends in the wild.
“All species of bears are threatened or endangered, so we feel it’s important for people to learn about them,” Welde says. “When they see these beautiful animals up close, maybe they’ll take home an appreciation for them and want to help them out.”
Bearadise Ranch is open seasonally. Contact Monica Welde at 941-322-2462 for private tours, birthday parties, corporate picnics and weddings. Visit the ranch website for more information about dates and general tours.

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