The iconic Smokey Bear is celebrating his 70th birthday this month. As WXPR Contributor Monie Shackleford reports, on Saturday, the Ottawa National Forest marked the occasion with a well-attended party at the Ottawa’s Visitor Center outside of Watersmeet, Michigan.
The party for Smokey included food, games for kids, historic Smokey promotional displays, fire trucks from area communities, and of course Smokey Bear. After the crowd sang “Happy Birthday,” to Smokey, he cut the cake with a firefighter’s axe called a Pulaski.
With all the fun, there was the underlining theme of fire prevention. Ian Shackleford of the Ottawa National Forest explained the story of Smokey Bear’s origins.
“The true story behind Smokey is a compelling one as a bear cub rescued from a forest fire with burnt paws, and the real Smokey Bear lived for years after in a zoo. People learned that story about Smokey Bear, and for many people they learned about wildfires and the harm they were causing to our nation and to our wildlife.
Lisa Gowe, who is a Fire Operations Specialist on the Ottawa says wet conditions have made fires less likely this summer, but fire prevention is still important.
“ This summer it’s been pretty wet. With it drying out now, we may have a fall season. With Smokey’s message of “Only you can prevent forest fires,” we may lessen that.”
The U.S. Forest Service, the Ad Council and the National Association of State Foresters adopted Smokey as the official symbol for wildfire prevention, 70 years ago on August 9th.