Smokey Bear – the second most recognized figure in the world after Santa Claus – was the center of attention on Thursday July 21.
Itasca State Park staff and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) forestry staff from Bemidji and Park Rapids celebrated the famous bear on his 78th birthday, while sharing information about fire prevention.
Smokey Bear Day was held inside and outside the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center. Usually an annual family event, was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID.
Connie Cox, Chief Naturalist for Itasca State Park, said, “We are so excited after two years of not being able to have Smokey come visit. He paused. He was fighting fires in Texas and came to join us.
Cox said attendance has ranged from 800 to over 1,000. “It’s fun because people are learning about fire prevention. They also learn about forestry trades, such as our smoke hunters. They can also try out skills, like making fire shelters. They learn what it takes to be those smoke hunters out west, fighting fires, and the five rules of safety, so we can do our part to help prevent wildfires.
Attendees learned how firefighters enter a fire shelter, tried out wildfire protection gear, explored fire trucks and gear, tested their knowledge of campfire safety, and even more.
Adults and children lined up for a photo with Smokey on Thursday.
Smokey’s fire prevention message is one of the longest running public service advertising campaigns.
1/3: Fargo’s Kelton and Jameson Gerving greet Smokey.
2/3: At five weeks old, Brainerd’s Griffin Wenzel was the youngest budding firefighter. Mom Anna said it was her very first outing.
3/3: Ronin Kouvaras gives Smokey a high-five with mom Misty Wenisch and 8-month-old Noah Kouvaras. They came from California to visit the park.
On August 9, 1944, Smokey Bear was born. He first appeared on a forest fire prevention poster.
In the poster, Smokey Bear pours water on a campfire that has escaped. The message on the poster read: “Care will prevent 9 out of 10 fires!”
Shortly after, Smokey Bear’s famous catchphrase, “Only you can prevent wildfires”, took hold. The U.S. Forest Service and the Ad Council quickly recognized the effectiveness of a fictional forest character for fire prevention education.
One spring day in 1950, in the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico, a game warden rescued a lone bear cub while battling a forest fire. The little orphan suffered severe burns to his paws and hind legs. He was nicknamed “Smokey” and news of his rescue spread across the country.
Smokey Bear is recognizable around the world. The successful public advertising campaign raised awareness of how reckless acts with unattended flames, including campfires, sparks from chains on automobiles and fireworks, cause fires in avoidable forest.