DESTIN — At first, it was all a joke to Ted Love.

Amid a spate of black bear sightings in Destin and across the area late last year, Love thought it would be funny to take a large black stuffed bear he'd found and place it in the trees and woods along the northern end of Main Street near his home on Indian Trail.

And it was fun, he admits — until a friend spotted him skulking around with the stuffed bear one night. Truth to tell, though, Love was relieved that he'd been found out.

"It's sort of hard at nighttime to sneak around in trees," he said.

His ursine miscreancy was at an end, but Love couldn't quite bring himself to part with the bear, so he left it on display in his front yard.

Soon, from parts unknown, another stuffed bear — and then another, and another — showed up in his yard.

"It just took on a life of its own," Love said.

As his family of stuffed bears grew, Love has created various scenes featuring the animals. Sometimes he'll use items like the discarded sofa he picked up from the side of the road or the jungle-themed mask dropped off by a neighbor or the kiddie car in which he once sat the bears. During a recent conversation in his driveway, Love continued to work through possibilities for props and scenes, wondering what he might do with, say, a computer or a TV set or a boat.

"It is sort of wacko, I'll admit that," Love said as he continued an almost stream-of-consciousness dialogue, fretting — among other things — about how he'd like to use bicycles in a scene but hasn't figured out how to get the bears to stay on them.

Holidays, in particular, are a fruitful time for Love's imagination. For Cinco de Mayo, his wrapped the bears in Mexican blankets. For Memorial Day, the black bear and the second-largest bear — Papa Bear and Mama Bear, respectively — were outfitted with large sunglasses while the smallest bear — Baby Bear, naturally enough — was placed in a plastic wading pool as the next-smallest bear — presumably Mama and Papa Bear's teenage child — looked on.

Every now and again, Love will venture into adult themes. The New Year's Day scene, for instance, featured Papa Bear with an ice pack on his head and an empty bottle of Crown Royal whisky on the ground beneath him.

But Love is shying away from those types of scenes because neighborhood children are a large audience for his displays.

One neighborhood woman brings her children by each afternoon to play with the bears, Love said. But people of all ages, particularly his neighbors, have become attached to the displays.

"They'll drive up in the driveway and say, 'Hey, we like the bears!' " Love said. "It's a zoo."

And soon enough on a recent afternoon, one of Love's neighbors stopped in front of the house to check out the latest display.

"It brings us such joy ... such joy," said Shari Ward, who shares a nearby condo with her friend, Karen Hyler.

When they first moved to the neighborhood, Ward and Hyler were victims of Love's original prank. They spotted the black bear in a tree in Love's yard, and for some reason decided to investigate and realized it was a stuffed animal.

"Look how cute they are!" Ward said as she walked among the bears. Like Love, Ward and Hyler are full of ideas about how to dress them.

"We're going to get the bears something ... maybe hats," Ward said.

"And I've got some baby clothes," she added as she surveyed the tiniest bear's fuzzy feet, wondering if a pair of baby shoes would fit.

Love reckons that he's met most of his neighbors as a result of the displays, and says that during the Christmas holidays and on Valentine's Day he'll find that they have left cards for the bears.

"People have been really excited," he said. "I'm surprised every day."

The bears, though, are a little worse for wear because of exposure to the elements, so Love is contemplating sending them on "vacation" — bringing hem inside for some drying out and freshening up. Even now, he's thinking about how he'll announce that pending departure. Maybe, he said, he'll put them in a boat with a sign reading "Gone fishing" or maybe he'll pose them for a few days with some luggage and a sign reading "Gone to the mountains, be back soon."

Whatever happens, the bears likely will be back from vacation before the Fourth of July, Love said.  In fact, he's already thinking about how he'll dress the bears for the nation's birthday.

"Maybe a wig, like George Washington," he said.