On Saturday, August 10th, the Red Rock District of the US Forest Service and much of the USA will be celebrating Smokey Bear’s 75th birthday. Stop by the Red Rock Ranger District Visitor Center just south of the Village of Oak Creek and join the celebration. The Forest Service is hosting a birthday party with displays, presentations, safety themed games, sno-cones, a dunk tank for visitors to help Forest Service staff “cool off” and a celebratory birthday cake. A 1924 Dodge pickup truck, the oldest vehicle in the Forest service inventory, will be on display. Smokey will make an appearance and he will be happy to shake hands or give you a genuine bear hug. He’s a gregarious, happy fellow, he loves the attention and to meet his fans. He likes nothing better than to have his picture taken with visitors. The party will run from 10am to 2pm. Come by and say hello to Smokey and his friends.
Smokey is one of the most loved and renowned cultural icons in modern history. His story starts on August 9, 1944 when the Forest Service, in cooperation with other agencies, created what has become the longest running public service advertising campaign in US history. At a time that most experienced fire fighters and able-bodied men were deployed for war, there was a fear that there would not be enough people to combat forest fires if started by natural, accidental or war activities. A campaign began to help minimize the possibility of accidental fires.
The Smokey Bear story has many fascinating facts that most people are unaware of.
In 1950, a forest fire in New Mexico resulted in an example of the impact of forest fires on wildlife, and a young black bear cub became the living embodiment of the Smokey Bear message. He ultimately landed up at the National Zoo in Washington D.C. and was one of the most visited exhibits at the zoo until his passing in 1976
Smokey Bear has one of the highest levels of name recognition in the world, rivaled only by Santa Claus and Mickey Mouse. In the USA he is recognized by over 95% of people. Santa Claus and Mickey Mouse have 96% and 97% respectively.
Smokey has accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and almost all other social media outlets. He has received so much mail over the years that he’s the only individual ever to have his own 5-digit Zip code (20252).
Although many people still like to argue the point, his correct name is Smokey Bear. In 1952, the famous song about him had the word “the” inserted to help maintain the rhythm. Although early ad campaigns had him speaking, Smokey does not speak. Come on folks, he’s a bear.
In 2001 Smokey’s iconic catch phrase “only you can prevent forest fires” was changed to “only you can prevent wildfires”. This change was made to emphasize the impact of fires on urban and suburban locations in close proximity to forest areas.
When on duty in the Verde Valley, Smokey has many activities and responsibilities. He’s a frequent guest at community events such as the “national nights out” and holiday parades. He’s a frequent participant in local parades, and can be seen riding in the back of the 1924 Dodge or other Forest Service vehicles with his Ranger friends. In recent years, Smokey has taken a starring role in annual Life and Fire Safety presentations to local school children, working side by side with Forest Service and Fire Department personnel to teach children how to prevent fires and stay safe. He typically has direct contact with anywhere from 1500 to 2500 elementary school children each season.
The people who help Smokey play his role are frequently amazed and envious of the love and affection he receives. Though he has already accomplished so much, Smokey’s work is far from over. As the Forest Service and its’ partner agencies make clear on a regular basis, wildfire prevention remains crucial. Smokey still needs your help. His catchphrase reflects your responsibility: Only you can prevent wildfires. Remember that this phrase is so much more than just a slogan: it’s an important way to care for our community.
Come by the Visitor Center on the 10th to help Smokey celebrate his birthday and thank him and his friends for all they do to make our community a safer and better place to live and visit.