According to Native American legend, a young brave - some say the father of Hiawatha - was attacked here by a large bear. Whether the brave was attacked while drinking from the springs or drank from the springs in thirst from his exhausting struggle, upon vanquishing the bear the brave named the springs "Mishemokwa", meaning great bear, in honor of his victory. The springs have been called "Great Bear" ever since.
The area known as Great Bear Springs is comprised of 236 acres owned by the City of Fulton, the 110 acre Town of Volney Park and 130 acres of CNY Landtrust land.
The property contains the historical canal guard lock #2 along the canal towpath. The guard lock doors were normally kept in the open position but were closed in times of high water. The guard lock protected the canal bed in times of high water while still allowing boats to cross the creek.
Great Bear Springs has been a source of spring water for over 200 years and became the primary source of water for the City of Fulton in 1970.
In 1883 local businessman Frederick Emerick with investors started the Fulton Waterworks supplying water to Fulton. It is still located on Rte 57 and used by the City of Fulton today. In 1888 Emerick expanded to bottling water. In 1894 Emerick bought the property known as Great Bear Spring and formed the Great Bear Spring Co. The original pump house, circa 1900, was built adjacent to the Oswego River and Canal. Water was piped across the river and bottled and shipped from there. Later a newer brick pump house was built, and water pumped up to and across 57 to a railway depot that collected the water into rail cars for shipment to various bottling plants on the east coast.
About 1907 Frederick Emerick with his son Stanley started an orchard of apple and cherry trees. 5,000 apple and 1,000 cherry trees were planted. Some of the original apple trees are still to be found on the property. About this time a trolley line was constructed that connected the City of Oswego with Syracuse. The trolley line ran through the Great Bear property, The story goes, that the trolley had a stop at Great Bear, so people could enjoy the springs and property. The trolley was discontinued in the mid-1920s.
In 1946 the Collins family leased the orchard farm and Fulton started leasing water form Great Bear. In 1976 the City of Fulton purchased the southern section of the Great Bear Property containing the wells. The orchard continued until the early 1980s.
In 1977 form a grant the Oswego County Youth conservation Corps started a 3-year development of clearing trails, building lean-tos and bridges. In 1979 the Great Bear Recreational Area opened to the public for hiking, xc-skiing, and camping for scouts.
1981 Nestle bought the right to use the name Great Bear. Nestle uses the name for spring water, but none comes from the original Great Bear Springs. By 1985 grant money had run out for maintaining GB as a recreational area, and soon fell into disrepair with vandalism occurring.
During the 1990s the local Syracuse mountain bike club, CNY Dirt maintained the trail system including spending many hours clearing limbs and logs that had been left across trails by a logging company.
In 2004 the Town of Volney purchased additional GB property adjacent and to the north of the Fulton property. In the fall of 2006 Volney looking to redevelop the GB property as a recreational area put out a notice looking for volunteers to help with trail maintenance and development. Friends of Great Bear was formed with one of the volunteers designing the logo and another developing and creating a map for the area. Additionally, another piece of property was added by a benevolent landowner, increasing the Great Bear Recreational area to almost 500 acres, with over 8 miles of connecting trails. Friends of Great Bear is also a member of the NYS Canal Corp's Adopt A Trail Organization, having approximately a mile of the old towpath on the property. All information is from various news articles and talking with people related to Great Bear in some way.