Osos Welcome sign and Bear Renovated

Written by Theresa-Marie Wilson

Theresa-Maria Wilson has been a journalist covering the North Coast and South County area for over 20 years. She is also the founder of Cat Noir CC and is currently working on a novel.

November 17, 2023

Before and after photos of the welcome sign to Los Osos, which was refurbished by a volunteers with Celebrate Los Osos.   Photo by Pandora Nash-Karner

While most bears are preparing to tuck into dens for the next several months, one very welcoming bear in Los Osos is prepared to show off this hibernation season.

The so-called Bridge Bear and adjacent welcome sign near the entrance of town on Los Osos Valley Road were refurbished by a group of volunteers organized with Celebrate Los Osos, a community benefit non-profit.

“These are some of the most important icons of Los Osos and they must be maintained,” said CLO President Pandora Nash-Karner.  “We took the signs down with a crane. They are in panels and had to be sanded, carefully refinished and reassembled. The mural was repainted by Becky McFarland and the sign was painted by Sean Beauchamp from Southpaw Signs. Then they were restored to their places by the crane. This time the mural and sign portions need to be touched up and the entire signs need to be seal coated.”

The Bridge Bear was thoroughly scrubbed, cleaned and treated with algae remover in preparation for a complete makeover in January. 

The volunteers included retired painting contractor Tom Needham, who led the charge with his painting expertise, retired high school art teacher John Biven volunteered to become a sign painter, and Ellie Malykont, Nora Paulson, Will Kastner and Pandora Nash-Karner were “unskilled but enthusiastic” labor.

The Bridge Bear on LOVR had algae removed and was scrubbed cleaned. 
Photo by Pandora Nash-Karner

“We will wash the sign every year or so, but it shouldn’t need treatment for another five years,” said Nash-Karner “The South Bay Blvd. sign is next after the first of the year. We will be looking for volunteers.”

Beautification projects in public spaces is at the heart of Celebrate Los Osos’ mission of “making a difference, one project at a time.” As a group, they have redone the median on LOVR in front of Ralph’s grocery store and turned it into a succulent oasis, did major repair work; expanded and provided signage at the Red Barn and adjacent picnic area; and hold an annual boat cleanup at Cuesta Inlet.

“People are passionate about Los Osos and have a strong sense of place,” said Nash-Karner. “Our icons are important, and they deserve to be cared for. There wasn’t anyone maintaining them. When we began, our first project was to restore the Bridge Bears, we didn’t intend to be an organization that maintained our town’s icons, we’d rather to build them. But, here we are on our second round of restoring the Bridge Bears and the welcome signs. We would love ideas of new projects that we could do. We encourage people to provide us ideas.”

Future projects on the table for CLO include a makeover of both Bridge Bears (the other is located on South Bay Boulevard.), refurbish the town sign, also on South Bay, more work on Baywood Pier, and they are looking at several other “roll-up-our-sleeves projects.” The pier is home to the Cow-Bear, Udderly Osos, which is almost complete. The fur on the bear portion needs finishing as does the crown of monarchs and her large sunglasses. There will also be a boat cutup and removal early next year at the Inlet.

For more Information about the organization, go to celebratelososos.org

John Biven, a retired art teacher who volunteered to paint most of the white lettering on the Los Osos entry way sign. 
Photo by Pandora Nash-Karner

In 1769, a group of missionaries led by Gaspar de Portola came through the area surrounding the Morro Bay estuary and, after seeing many grizzly bears and hunting some of them, called it Los Osos, according to the Morro Bay National Estuary Program website.

The original signs were created by well-known artist-sign maker Robert Brooks of Los Osos in the 1970s.

Known as the Valley of the Bears, the living breathing version of the animals are not spotted in nature as often as one might think. 

A black bear was spotted in the area about three years ago; it was reported swimming across the Morro Bay Estuary. California Fish and Wildlife tranquilized and transported it to the Los Padres National Forest after it climbed a tree in Los Osos. Brown bears are native to San Luis Obispo County, but black bears are not, MNEP says. 

As a reminder, the American Museum of Natural History cautioned on its website, “For hibernating animals, an early wake-up call isn’t just an inconvenience—it can be downright lethal. Waking up from hibernation requires a lot of energy, depleting reserves that are key to surviving the winter.

“It’s not just bears that are in danger if they wake up from hibernation at the wrong time. In colder areas of North America, many bats species sleep through winters in caves, mines, and other large roosts, known as hibernacula.”

Even more bear fun: Every fall: Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska hosts Fat Bear Week, an annual tournament where the public picks from 12 rotund bears in an online brackets-style tournament.

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