The legacy of Grizzly Adams and the power of television

There have been a whole passel of celebrity deaths lately. David Bowie (it’s a pity), Alan Rickman (that one hurt me deeply), and Dan Haggerty (wait…who?).

Dan Haggerty played the title character on the famous television show The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams in the late 70s, as I learned from various posts on Facebook a few days ago. I had no idea who he was by name, but as soon as that picture of him posed unwisely cheek to cheek with a grizzly bear made the rounds I said, “Oh, yeah. That guy.”

My friend Mike didn’t say “Oh, yeah. That guy.” He was heartbroken. It turns out that Dan Haggerty had been a major influence on his life. “Grizzly Adams had a HUGE impact on me and my love of the outdoors,” he commented. “Without Grizzly Adams this suburban kid may have never have hiked the Appalachian Trail.”

I asked Mike to say more. “Growing up in suburbia those Grizzly Adams episodes spoke to me. I don’t know if I wanted to be Adams, Crazy Jack, Ben the bear? I know I didn’t want suburbia.” That influence stuck with him and later “I read about interesting people who did the Appalachian Trail and wanted A LOT more out of life than I had seen so far. So I left home with nothing. 2,600 miles later I landed in Maine.”

That was in 1990. In 1991, he did Vermont’s Long Trail. In 1998, he hiked the whole of the Pacific Crest Trail with the woman who would become his wife. They got married at the top of Acadia’s Gorman Mountain in 2000. Mike now works at Friends of Acadia, where he helps promote and ensure access to some of the best Maine has to offer.

Would all of this have happened if a kid hadn’t happened to be watching a slightly cheesy (sorry, Mike) television show about a guy and a bear? Maybe, maybe not. Who can say what influences us? What right spark at the right time gets us interested, gets us motivated, gets us outside?

Do I advocate television as a way to teach kids about the outdoors? Not generally. I mean, doesn’t that seem a little backwards? Isn’t it better to just get out there? On the other hand, I probably wouldn’t be who I am with Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. I bet my kids will say the same about the Wild Kratts, from whom they have memorized facts about everything from lobsters to lemurs.

Who am I to deny how amazing it is to catch a glimpse of a world outside your own? Is it valuable for my kids to know as much about cheetahs as they know about chickadees? Of course. Was it helpful to Mike to know there are places in the world where mountain men make their own way in the wilderness? No doubt.

So thanks, Dan Haggerty. You, too, Marlin Perkins and Chris and Martin Kratt. Thanks for giving us a way to get excited about something new and different. You’ll never be “that guy” to us.

Cherie Galyean

About Cherie Galyean

In a perfect world, Cherie Galyean would spend hours every day chasing her kids up hiking trails, pretending to garden, and baking things. Instead, she works full-time in the non-profit sector and fits those other things in-between loads of laundry in her free time. A Maine native with multiple hometowns, she currently lives on Mount Desert Island with her husband, seven-year-old daughter, five-year-old son, and the best shelter mutt in the world.