State boasts bears, ducks, mules, walking horses

State boasts bears, ducks, mules, walking horses

Posted: Tuesday, September 7, 2010 8:01 pm

NASHVILLE (AP) — Black bears in the Smoky Mountains. Ducks at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis. Mules in Columbia. Tennessee walking horses in Shelbyville.
The state celebrates an array of animals. There’s no Lassie, Lion King or Trigger. But, consider: The ducks have their own penthouse at the sumptuous Peabody. The mules are so renowned that they’ve been included on a national Homeland Security database. The bears are a top tourist draw to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. And, in Shelbyville, nearly a quarter million tickets were sold to see the magnificent, high-stepping animals vie for honors.
The horses competed in 183 classes at the 72nd annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, where the world’s grand champion immediately achieves a value of six-figures.
Over in the Smokies, it’s one of the few places in the eastern United States where black bears live in wild surroundings. There are about 600 in the sprawling park on the Tennessee-North Carolina border.
“People look at the black bear as a symbol of the wilderness,” said Bob Miller, a spokesman for the park. “They are the biggest and most charismatic wildlife in the Smokies. And the cubs are cute — just like little teddy bears.
“Bears have great expressions, and are very busy and resourceful.
“When people come into the visitors center, the first question is where is the bathroom and the second is where can I see a bear. It’s the high point of most visits.”
In Columbia, which proudly proclaims itself “the mule capital of the world,” an estimated 100,000 people gather on the first Saturday each April to watch dozens of mules parade peacefully through downtown. Taking advantage of their annual public presentation, some of the mules are resplendent in gingham or high bib overalls.
It’s so highfalutin that it ended up on a 2006 national Homeland Security database as a place vulnerable to terror attacks.
In Memphis, five North American mallards take an elevator daily at 11 a.m. from their penthouse to the Peabody fountain in the lobby of the downtown icon. Six hours later, they return to their duck palace on the roof, continuing a tradition dating back to the 1930s.
“People come from all over the world to see them,” said Jason Sensat, the “duckmaster.” “They come from as far away as Japan and Australia and they’ve heard about them back home.”
The four hens and one drake live luxuriously on the hotel rooftop with their own fountain, granite floors and ceiling fans.
From there, they look over the city in a way that not even Elvis had.
“They have one of the best views of Memphis, overlooking the Mississippi River and all of downtown,” Sensat said.

Published in The Messenger 9.7.10

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