"America's Favorite Park" is Lily the black bear's home

Lily the black bear, and her cub, Hope
Lily the black bear, and her cub, Hope

We'll admit we're not too familiar with Bear Head Lake State Park near Ely.

But Lily, the black bear who became an international sensation after she gave birth live on the Internet, knows the park like the back of her paw. And that connection may have helped elevate her home to the status of "America's Favorite Park."

More than 1.6 million people cast their online votes for Lily's home in a nationwide competition sponsored by Coca Cola and the National Association of State Park Directors. That's not bad for a preserve that hosted 101,568 visitors last year.

And considering the competition, park manager Jen Westlund expressed as much surprise as anyone at the results. She suspects a Facebook campaign may have given Bear Head Lake the edge over its nearest rival, Great Smokey Mountains National Park.

Hope and Lily scratching for the bear necessities.
Hope and Lily scratching for the bear necessities.

Which brings us back to Lily. She and her cub Hope are celebrities now. And biologists Lynn Rogers and Sue Mansfield of the North American Bear Center, who track the sow and cub, have been able to capitalize on the bears' notoriety to raise awareness and money for their program.

They've also been tracking and promoting the "America's Favorite Park" competition on their website and on Lily's Facebook page, which has 111,000 friends.

Now, thanks in no small part to Lily and Hope, Bear Head Lake State Park will receive a $100,000 grant.

That's good news, especially after Rogers and Mansfield confirmed earlier this week that an anonymous hunter had shot and killed another one of their research bears, named Sarah.

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