A six-year-old girl who lost a special teddy bear she had had since being adopted from an Ethiopian orphanage thought it was gone forever when she forgot it along a trail in a US national park last.
The prized bear was lost in Glacier National Park, Montana, but Naomi’s parents and family friends held on to a glimmer of hope – and hope has won out.
Thanks to a social media plea, the sharp eyes and soft heart of a park ranger and the closure of a hiking trail because of grizzly bear activity on the day a family friend visited the park, the teddy is back in the arms of Naomi Pascal in Jackson, Wyoming.
The bear’s return, which has earned 12,000 likes on the Glacier National Park Facebook page, is a beautiful story that resonates, said Ben Pascal, Naomi’s father and the senior pastor at the Presbyterian Church of Jackson Hole, a popular ski town south of Grand Teton National Park.
“It was just a story of hope and kindness and people just working together,” he said. “It touched people’s hearts. It gave them hope. It made them feel like there is good in the world, which I believe there is.”
Teddy was the first gift Ben and Addie Pascal sent to Naomi before she was adopted in 2016. She took Teddy with her on family trips to Ethiopia, Rwanda, Croatia and Greece.
When Mr Pascal took his children to Montana in October 2020, Teddy was again along for the adventure.
While Mr Pascal and a friend went on a hike in Glacier National Park, family friend Terri Hayden watched the children. They were almost back to Ms Hayden’s home in Bigfork that night when they realised they did not have Teddy.
It snowed overnight, closing the higher elevations of the park for the season and preventing Ms Hayden from returning to search for Teddy. She made a report to park officials, hoping someone might turn in the bear to a lost-and-found.
Ranger Tom Mazzarisi, a bear specialist in Glacier, soon spotted the stuffed toy, soaking wet and sitting in melting snow near the Hidden Lake Trail while he and two others were doing some end-of-season work.
“Typically, items that aren’t worth much monetarily get thrown out,” he said. He was unaware the stuffed animal had been reported lost, but for some reason could not bring himself to dump it in the rubbush.
Teddy “hibernated” in Mr Mazzarisi’s cabin in St Mary and when he returned to work in April he “immediately put him on the dash of my patrol truck”.
The bear had a busy spring and summer, watching wolves howl at each other and working “bear jams”, which are traffic queues caused by bears near the road, Mr Mazzarisi said.
In June, Ms Pascal posted a plea on Facebook for help finding Teddy, saying: “He’s been by her side for so many milestones. But there are many more adventures to be had!”
People responded with well wishes and offers of replacement bears, and a Michigan woman posted a photo she took of Teddy on the day it was lost, saying it was the only bear she saw in the park.
Meanwhile, Ms Hayden felt bad about the loss of Naomi’s special bear, so when she and some family members went to Glacier in late September, she told them about it and stopped to check on potential lost-and-found sites.
“I’m a woman of faith,” she said. “And that morning I said, ‘OK lord, if this bear is around, please put that bear in my path and let me come home with that bear today’.”
That is exactly what happened when Ms Hayden and her niece spotted a stuffed bear in a ranger’s truck after being turned back from a trail that was closed due to bear activity.
She took a picture and sent it to Ms Pascal, who quickly confirmed it was Teddy.
Ms Hayden later shipped the bear to Naomi, who said she was really excited when she got Teddy back.