By Julie Horner
Vigilant among the shadows at the north end of Boulder Creek, the famous “Welcome Bear” stands sentinel with its hand-carved sign and catch of the day clutched firmly in both paws. The bear has welcomed travelers to the San Lorenzo Valley for decades.
According to local legend, the bear was carved by chainsaw artist, Joe Elmore. Renowned for his enormous woodworks, Elmore, who passed away in March of 2017, had a gallery in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, and a studio in Boulder Creek where he displayed and sold his pieces. Often starting with massive chunks of reclaimed redwood, Joe’s artwork adorns many homes across the country, and some of his sculptures were bought to be used in the cult vampire movie, The Lost Boys, in 1987. The “Welcome to San Lorenzo Valley” sign was added later. Landan Cheney, formerly of Ben Lomond, carved the sign as part of his Eagle Service Project in the 1970s when he was 16.
The Boulder Creek Main Street Program Design Committee has given the go-ahead to treat the beloved bear and its sign to a long awaited spa weekend. Neal Fleck, a 17-year-old Scout from Boulder Creek Troop 623, who is going for his Eagle Rank this year, heard that Boulder Creek Main Street was interested in refurbishing the bear. So Neal wrote up a work plan that was approved by Main Street and Troop leaders. Nancy Armstrong, a Boulder Creek Main Street volunteer, is overseeing the project.
In preparing for the project, Neal researched the best eco-friendly way to clean, stain, and seal the bear. Advisors included members of the California Parks Maintenance Department, who are familiar with outdoor durability challenges. With donations of supplies from local sources like Scarborough Lumber Ace Hardware, Central Home Supply in Scotts Valley, and Boulder Creek Pizza, Neal put together a volunteer team of fellow Scouts to focus on individual parts of the work plan.
Besides painstakingly cleaning the wood by hand and by pressure washing, the bear will be stained as needed and sealed. The letters on the sign welcoming motorists to the valley have been painted “State Park Yellow” by Nicole Fleck. Neal and his team have added decorative rocks and wood chips around the small garden at the foot of the bear. The plants were installed over the years by Boulder Creek locals and have been diligently maintained by neighbor Alan Linzer. Wiring has also been installed so that the bear and its sign can be illuminated at night. The property owners, Dan and Carole Schwarzbach, have supplied the tap into the electricity and the water needed to use pressure wash equipment.
High atop a stepladder, Neal carefully scrubbed moss from the bear’s carved surfaces with a small brush. While the work looks tedious, Neal was impressed by the artist’s attention to detail. He thought it amazing that the whole bear, fish and all, was carved from a single hunk of wood. The salmon, Neal said, will have its missing tailfin restored, and then it will be painted a shade of red.
Pictured: The Boy Scouts in the photo are Neal Fleck, Wyatt Berridge, Wesley Berridge, Nathan McKee, Sterling McKee, Bryce Holden, and Bristol Holden.