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Smokey’s 75th Birthday – Guest Blogger – Mary Nordeen, US Forest Service

Smokey’s 75th Birthday Celebrated Across the Forest!

Every August, the Chippewa National Forest celebrates Smokey’s birthday with cake and a song, but this year, with Smokey turning 75, we needed to do a little extra. To mark the grand occasion, the Forest participated in eight different events over eight days, connecting directly with over 1,500 people.

Forest staff started the week on August 3 in the communities, sending out Smokey’s message at Walker Bay Days and Grand Rapids’ Tall Timber Days. At Walker, the Forest staff showed everyone how to make ice cream in a bag to go with Smokey’s birthday cake.  It was part of a camp cooking activity to entice more kids out in the woods. Families also tested their firefighting skills with backpack pumps and learned about being FireWise in their neighborhoods.

On August 7, visitors gathered at the Cut Foot Sioux Visitor Center to play firefighter games, talk to the fire crew and again, enjoy a giant cake. (Rumor has it Smokey was seen with frosting on his face.) It was great fun to see so many kids (and grandkids) of Forest employees participating in the day. Perhaps future firefighters?

Summer naturalists from the two Visitor Centers partnered with MN DNR naturalists at Itasca State Park for Mississippi River Day on August 8. Visitors learned about eagles and loons….and firefighting bears right at the Mississippi headwaters. People from around the world were part of the crowd celebrating the River and wearing Smokey 75th birthday stickers proudly!

Employees and visitors joined the celebration on Smokey’s real birthday on August 9th at the Forest Supervisor’s Office for cake and a big hug from Smokey Bear. Celebrations continued August 10 at the annual Smokey Day birthday party at Norway Beach Visitor Center near Cass Lake. Forest friend and musician Jim Boedicker arrived to sing the traditional Smokey Bear song, direct from his 1950’s vintage song sheet. Jim sang all four versus for us, and the crowd joined in every time the song rolled to “prowling and a growling and a sniffin’ the air”. After the Happy Birthday song, campers enjoyed cake, firefighter games and a few bear-themed art projects.

Smokey started birthday week with 90 degree temps and hot sun, and finished the birthday celebrations on Sunday, August 11 on a windy cool summer morning at a Civil Air Patrol event. Firefighters joined Smokey for one more birthday song, and lots of hugs from kids. The theme for the event was Above and Beyond….fitting for a firefightin’ bear who has given us so much. Thanks Smokey, and thanks to all the firefighters, naturalists, recreation staff and volunteers who helped make Smokey week memorable!