Promoting fire prevention and safety for nearly a century, the iconic Smokey Bear turned 78 years old this summer with the assistance of the Volunteers of the Angeles National Forest (VANF), U.S. Forest Service Patrol 38, Station 37 from Valyermo, and a host of well-wishers Saturday, August 5, 2023.
The San Gabriel Mountains set the backdrop for the Big Pines Visitor Center in the beautiful Angeles National Forest. The long-awaited birthday celebration welcomed guests to share crafts, hiking, museum tours, and educational experiences for all ages, not to mention Smokey’s birthday cake. “We are glad that we were able to finally hold Smokey’s Birthday Party here!” VANF President Carol Bishop happily said about the new VANF headquarters.
U. S. Forest Station 37 was on hand with Engine-337 transporting Smokey himself, making an appearance for the kids, young and old alike, offering fire safety tips and free forestry hats. Friendly VANF members served dual frosted birthday sheet cakes while the crowd explored the remnants of the old facility and the well-marked nature trails. U. S. Forestry specialists were also available for all things flora and fauna.
U. S. Forest Service District Archaeologist Tracey Hall presented ancient relics gathered from the area and demonstrated the use of found tools to curious visitors. The U. S. Department of Forestry handed out free Jeffrey Pine saplings to all as the sun seemed to cooperate with guests 7,000 feet up on this clear, San Gabriel Mountains summer morning.
Worth a trip up to Wrightwood itself, the Big Pines Visitor Center is a delightful way to investigate the creatures and plant life of the San Gabriel Mountains. The museum has great examples of taxidermy, with many ancient artifacts of the region on display. The building was a Los Angeles County-established recreation facility that flourished in the 1920s. The stone tower ruins in front of the Main Hall are the perfect landmark for the Big Pines Visitor Center. Today, an oversized statue of Smokey Bear stands proudly in front of the Angeles Forest Big Pines Visitors Center, keeping the spirit of Smokey Bear alive.
According to the U. S. Department of Agriculture Office of Communications, Smokey Bear was born on August 9, 1944, as an animated cartoon character drawn by Illustrator Albert Staehle. After being rescued from a fiery blaze in the Lincoln National Forest of New Mexico as a cub in 1950, the living Smokey joined the cartoon bear character six years later as a new USFS fire prevention mascot until his passing in 1976. Smokey Bear, with his Forest Service hat and shovel, is still a recognized symbol of fire safety and prevention around the globe. “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires!” is the familiar slogan used by Smokey Bear in fire prevention awareness campaigns since 1947. Maintaining the history and importance of such an American treasure is vital to keeping fire prevention awareness at the forefront of forest dwellers and guests.
The U. S. Forest Service and The Volunteers of the Angeles National Forest presented Smokey’s Birthday Party. Happy Birthday Smokey Bear, and remember, “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires!” The Big Pines Visitor Center is located at 24537 Hwy 2 in Wrightwood, Ca, and is open Sat-Sun, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm (760) 249-3504. Donations are always welcome.