Astoria Parks Department offers plush 'ambassador' to familiesHe's brown and fuzzy and wears pint-sized overalls and boots.

And even though he can't talk, he might just be Astoria's latest ambassador.

Astor the Bear was "born" Dec. 15 and lives at the Astoria Parks and Community Services office on Duane Street where he is sponsored by U.S. Bank. The cuddly plush bear is designed to travel with children and their families around the city, state, nation - and even the world.

"I think that he's something that when people see him, they might ask about where he came from," said Recreation Supervisor Jim Krettler. "And when he comes back to Astoria, he can share of all his travel experiences. I think this is something that the community will really look forward to."

The inspiration for a traveling community bear came from Wilsonville's Parks and Recreation Department. Their bear has become so popular, they're considering adding another.

For a $25 refundable deposit, families may reserve Astor for an upcoming trip by calling 325-7275. Reservation forms are available at the Parks office, 1095 Duane St., and should be filled out at least two weeks prior to travel. All travelers are required to give an exact date that Astor will be returned - and if that date is not met, the deposit will be forfeited.

Astor comes with a child-sized backpack that holds himself, his travel journal, his binoculars, a photograph album, an emergency kit and kids' games and activities. If Astor is returned without any of these items, the replacement cost will be deducted from the deposit.

"We all remember sitting in the back of the car for hours on a long trip," said Terra Littell, a Parks administrative assistant. "It can be really hard for young kids. We thought this would be something fun to offer the kids and a way to get involved with families in the community."

The parks department asks each person who travels with Astor to take at least one photo of him during the trip or purchase a post card from a landmark or city he visits. Travelers are also asked to fill out a page in Astor's travel journal to share with the community. A bulletin board will be kept at Astoria City Hall, with a map tracking Astor's travels, photos and postcards, Krettler said.

Astor has already traveled to a local basketball game and Portland International Airport. He is set to go to Yellowstone National Park this summer and families have expressed interest in taking him to India and Paris.

And just in case Astor gets lost during his travels, a bar code was built into his body at the Build-A-Bear Workshop store in Portland where he was made. If Astor is turned in to any of the world-wide Build-A-Bear stores, employees will use that bar code to return him home to Astoria.

"I really see Astor as becoming an ambassador for Astoria," Krettler said. "I think this is something that can really get the community talking and sharing their stories."


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