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Itasca State Park hosts Smokey Bear Day

Itasca State Park staff and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) forestry staff from Bemidji and Park Rapids feted the famous bear on his 78th birthday, while sharing fire prevention information.

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Bemidji Park and Rec brought a group of kids to Itasca State Park on July 21 for Smokey the Bear Day.
Shannon Geisen/Park Rapids Enterprise
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Smokey Bear – the second-most recognized figure in the world, after Santa Claus – was the center of attention on Thursday, July 21.

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C.J. Peterson from Waconia, Minn. gets a big bear hug from Smokey. Itasca State Park celebrated Smokey the Bear Day on Thursday, July 21.
Shannon Geisen / Park Rapids Enterprise

Itasca State Park staff and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) forestry staff from Bemidji and Park Rapids feted the famous bear on his 78th birthday, while sharing fire prevention information.

Smokey Bear Day was held both inside and outside the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center. Typically an annual family-friendly event, was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID.

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Joe Rucinski with the DNR helps twins Ilan and Nava Ekstrand try on Nomex flame-resistant clothing, "so it allows firefighters to get close to the fire to put it out," he explains. The Ekstrands spend the summer with their grandmother Carol Berg, who has a cabin on Mantrap Lake.
Shannon Geisen/ Park Rapids Enterprise

Connie Cox, lead naturalist for Itasca State Park, said, “We’re just so excited after two years of not being able to have Smokey come and visit us. He took a break. He was fighting fires in Texas and came up to be with us.”

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Lori Barrow explains how fire shelters offer protection to firefighters. Kids were given a chance to get under one within 30 seconds or less.
Shannon Geisen/ Park Rapids Enterprise
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Children attempted to get into fire shelter within 30 seconds or less.
Shannon Geisen/Park Rapids Enterprise

Cox said attendance has ranged from 800 to over a 1,000. “It’s fun because people learn about fire prevention. They also learn about careers in forestry, like our smoke chasers. They get to try the skills as well, such as doing the fire shelters. They learn what it takes to be those smoke chasers out West, fighting fires, as well as learning the five safety rules, so that we can do our part in helping to prevent wildfires.”

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Children were challenged to find six things wrong with this campfire.
Shannon Geisen/ Park Rapids Enterprise

Participants learned how firefighters get into a fire shelter, tried on wildland fire-fighting protective gear, explored fire trucks and equipment, tested their safe campfire knowledge and much more.

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Camille Holker, 2, with assistance from dad Isaac, tries out the pump cans that once were used to help put out forest fires. Today, bladder bags are more common.
Shannon Geisen / Park Rapids Enterprise

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 ad campaigns.

On Aug. 9, 1944, Smokey Bear was born. He first appeared on a forest fire prevention poster.

In the poster, Smokey Bear is pouring water onto an escaped campfire. The poster message stated, "Care will prevent 9 out of 10 fires!"

Soon after, Smokey Bear's famous slogan, "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires," took hold. The U.S. Forest Service and the Ad Council quickly recognized the effectiveness a fictional forest character had 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 forest fire. The orphaned cub suffered badly burned paws and hind legs. He was dubbed “Smokey” and news of his rescue spread nationwide.

Smokey Bear is recognizable throughout the world. The successful public ad campaign has raised awareness how careless acts with unattended flames, including campfires, sparks from chains on automobiles and fireworks, cause preventable wildfires.

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Shannon Geisen is editor of the Park Rapids Enterprise.
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