2019 marks the 75th birthday of Smokey Bear, the famous cartoon mascot of the U.S. Forest Service known for his fire safety tips and famous sign-off, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” Originally created by committee in 1944, Smokey put fire safety in the hands of citizens at a time when lumber was crucial to the war economy and the Forest Service was losing firefighters to the military draft.
Today, Smokey continues to champion fire safety and prevention, though his slogan has changed to the more inclusive “Only you can prevent wildfires.”
In McCurtain County, with its diverse wildlife and heavily forested parks—including Beavers Bend State Park—Smokey’s message of responsibility remains as vital as ever.
“We each have a responsibility, from the smallest child to adults—everyone has the same responsibility to prevent wildfires,” said Calista Stephens, communications and outreach specialist for Forest Heritage Center Museum at Beavers Bend State Park. “Raising awareness is key.”
To that end, Stephens said that state agencies across the country are coordinating with the U.S. Forest Service and the Ad Council to celebrate Smokey all year long. Oklahoma Forestry Services and Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation are helping to facilitate several Smokey bashes across Oklahoma, including at Forest Heritage Center Museum in Beavers Bend State Park.
Stephens said that, with 50 different species of trees within a one-mile radius, the Forest Heritage Center is the perfect place to celebrate Smokey, forestry, and fire safety. The Museum also has a direct connection to Smokey, with 14 large dioramas painted by artist-illustrator Harry Rossoll, who worked for the U.S. Forest Service during Smokey the Bear’s creation and ultimately helped launch the mascot to national fame with weekly newspaper cartoons illustrating Smokey’s message of fire safety. Rossoll also created another mascot specifically for Oklahoma Forestry Services: Tree Bear, who encourages tree planting with the slogan “Good things come from trees!”
This year, the Owa-Chito Student Art Show (part of the annual Owa-Chito Festival of the Forest, a two-day event June 21–22) is taking on Smokey as its theme, and the 75th Smokey Birthday Bash will happen concurrently with the art show at Forest Heritage Center on June 21, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
Stephens said the birthday bash will include the Smokey-themed art show, balloons, games, selfie spots, and cookies with Smokey stamps for children to custom decorate with edible markers.
And, of course, Smokey himself will make several appearances over the course of the weekend.
The event is family friendly, free and open to the public.