Tuesday, July 28, 2015

New Smokey Bear Greets Fairgoers

The Columbus Dispatch- Kathy Lynn Gray

A 21st-century Smokey Bear will greet Ohio State Fair visitors!
The retiring Smokey — an iconic figure at the fair for 55 years — could end up at a state-park lodge or a museum, or in a traveling exhibit.

After hesitating last summer, the state Controlling Board approved spending the $80,250 it  cost to create the new Smokey. The money is a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, but it needed board approval because the Ohio Department of Natural Resources is contracting for the work.

Old Smokey didn’t move a muscle, but new Smokey will move his head up and down and side to side. His mouth will open and shut, and he’ll speak preprogrammed messages such as “Only you can prevent forest fires,” said Matt Eiselstein, a Natural Resources spokesman.

“We were looking for a lifelike experience for our little fairgoers,” Eiselstein said.

Like old Smokey, the new version will tower at 14 feet, with a shovel in one hand and a brown ranger hat atop his furry head.

His handlers still will sit in the adjacent building to give Smokey a voice. Workers still will quietly ask parents for their children’s names and convey the information to handlers so that Smokey can call the children by name.

“Many adults, including myself, remember going to the Natural Resources park as a child and being greeted by Smokey,” said fair spokeswoman Alicia Shoults. “Ohio families make it a point to see Smokey every year.”

Smokey Bear has been a fire-prevention spokesman nationwide for 70 years. The Forest Service created him after first considering a deer — the Disney movie Bambi was popular at the time — but the movie studio would authorize Bambi’s use for only a year, according to SmokeyBear.com. A bear was chosen instead and began promoting the message in 1944.

At Natural Resources, lots of ideas are being tossed around for old Smokey, but no decision has been made as to where he’ll land, Eiselstein said.

No matter where he goes, he’ll have to be spruced up a bit, perhaps getting new fur and a new pair of blue jeans (waist size: 154 inches).

“Old Smokey has been quite a trouper, standing out in the rain and sun and heat for more than

50 years,” Eiselstein said. “It was time for a new one.”

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