One of America’s most recognizable icons is turning 70, and he’ll be having a party Sat., Aug. 9, at Wakulla Springs State Park. Smokey Bear and the Florida Forest Service are inviting families to the park to have a good time learning about wildfire prevention.
On Wednedsay, it was hot out at the at the Lake Talquin State Forest station. But wildfire mitigation specialist Todd Schroeder and wildland firefighter Ricky Redding have agreed to arrange a meeting with Smokey Bear anyway.
Smokey is going to have a busy weekend as events like the one at Wakulla Springs State Park are held throughout the country on Aug. 9. But Schroeder says Smokey Bear – or rather, Redding in costume – is committed to being on hand to say hi to local kids.
“As far as our birthday celebration goes, we will have Smokey there the entire time,” Schroeder says. “So it matters not when the kids get there, they’re going to be able to spend some time with Smokey."
Redding says working as Smokey allows him to engage with the community in new ways.
“Being that Smokey basically is an icon, so to speak, you have people that wouldn’t normally say much to you, even as a firefighter, they recognize Smokey, and they’ll come right up to you,” Redding says. “They’ll want to hug you, or take a picture – you know, stuff like that. I think it’s pretty cool.”
But that doesn’t change the fact Smokey is covered in fur in 90-degree weather. Schroeder and Redding say Smokey doesn’t work more than about 15 minutes in the heat, but luckily, Redding says they’ve found another solution, too.
“They’ve finally built a cabin for Smokey, and it's air conditioned, so that kind of helps, too,” Redding says.
Smokey’s party starts at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Wakulla Springs State Park and it goes until 2 p.m. Schroeder says the celebration will have a scavenger hunt, games and other outdoor activities.