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Wakulla Springs to Host Smokey Bear Birthday Party


One of America's oldest and best-known symbols has made it to the three-quarters-of-a-century mark. Wakulla Springs State Park will be the location for the local celebration this Saturday, August 3.

Florida Forest Service Wildfire Mitigation Specialist Todd Schroeder has very vivid memories from when he was a kid.

"I was a child, probably under the age of 10 and there was a pretty active TV campaign back in the 50s and 60s."

(Old TV audio) "Remember, only you can prevent forest fires!"

That was the original cartoon voice of Smokey Bear.

"It's been the most successful ad campaign in the United State," asserted Schroeder. "The U.S. Forest Service along with the Ad Council put it all together."

And since this year marks Smokey Bear's 75th birthday, Schroeder declared a party is certainly in order.

"We're celebrating the 75th in partnership with the Florida Park Service. We joined hands with them and they've agreed to let us have the celebration at Wakulla Springs State Park in the picnic area right near where you'd go in to go swimming. There's a large area there and we'll meet there on August 3."

Which is this Saturday. Schroeder said it will happen between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.

"Smokey will be there, so there will be a lot of good photo opportunities. We'll have his cabin there and a display of his fire prevention rules and it will be a good area to give Smokey a hug and take a picture with the family or selfie or whatever you're choosing."

There will be souvenirs of the occasion. "We encourage the children and their families to bring white tee shirts and we'll have a press on site to press their choice of three different styles of Smokey birthday iron-ons. We'll also have a face painting station, which is always popular with the children."

Schroeder said there will be lots of other activities with the emphasis on "active."

"Participate in a fire engine challenge," he invited. "Try your hand at managing a fire hose and trying to move a target along a rope line. Kids always enjoy that; squirting water and moving things around."

Each child receives a passport that will be stamped at each activity station. That will put them in the running for all kinds of giveaways. But Schroeder says the focus is still the very special bear whose cartoon image was based on reality.

"We're going to try and do - every hour on the hour - the real Smokey Bear story and how he came to be because he was a real bear."

A bear who remains an enthusiastic, vibrant symbol of wildfire prevention, even at age 75.

Follow @flanigan_tom

Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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