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Where are we located? Just look for the bears!

The story behind our iconic bears.

Story taken from the Jackson Hole News & Guide

It will never again be difficult to locate Dave Hansen Whitewater and Scenic River Trips in downtown Jackson. Just look for the bears.

A long-standing plan of owner Bud Chatham and his wife, Kelly Kaiser, the sculpture by Afton woodworker Jonathan “The Bear Man” LeBenne has completed the wave-shaped canopy over the entryway of the 49-year-old Snake River outfitting company.

“It’s nice to have a landmark,” said Chatham, who over the phone seemed tickled by the attention. “When people ask where you are, you just say, ‘It’s where you see the rafting bears.’”

Chatham bought Hansen Whitewater about 12 years ago and five years ago moved it to the northwest corner of Broadway and Glenwood, the former site of a gas station and then a skateboard shop. When the business moved it added a wave-shaped canopy over its entryway — a somewhat distinctive architectural touch in itself — but Chatham and Kaiser had even more ambitious plans.

“We talked about doing it then,” Chatham said of the lifesize-or-larger sculpture of a bear family and pilot riding out a big wave. “But then we decided to wait. It [the canopy] was a cool element, and we wanted to enjoy it for a while.”

But their foresight was long enough that they made sure the town planning process for the canopy would pave the way for the future sculpture.

“When we went through the planning process for the porch I asked,” Chatham said. “I said this was something we wanted to put on top of it.”

The town declared it public art, so long as it didn’t include a sign or label, and deemed the structure fit for the later addition.

Chatham and Kaiser spent a few years fiddling with sketches and concepts and consulting with LeBenne — whose critters crawl across the facade of the Lodge at Jackson Hole, the antler arch welcoming visitors to Afton, and scores of other lodges, businesses and homes throughout the West — before finally deciding to go for it last winter. Per their plans, the 10 life-jacketed bears represent different characters the company has taken down the Snake’s roiling waves over the years.

“The kids are up in front, wanting to get the most wet,” Chatham said. “Then there’s then the cool bear that’s all business, wearing the sunglasses, and the bear that just wants to wave to the camera. And then the bear that’s a little scared, that’s not paddling and that’s putting hands across its face.”

And, of course, the pilot, holding onto his hat as the blue raft’s tail whips and tosses him up in the air.

A desk worker at Hansen Whitewater said 50 percent of this summer’s walk-up business has been generated by the new piece of art. Chatham said he doubted it was quite that much, but he said it has attracted some customers and plenty of looks.

“It’s fun,” he said. “A lot of people stop by, take pictures. I’ll ask people, ‘Say, how’d you hear about us,’ and they’ll say, ‘We saw the rafting bears.’”

 

A rafting guide helps an elderly woman put on a yellow lifejacket.

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