Smokey Bear Historical Park
Smokey Bear Historical Park
Completed in 1979, the Park was established to honor Capitan's favorite son Smokey, the little bear cub that was found with burned paws after a 17,000 acre forest fire in 1950 on the Capitan Mountains near Capitan, New Mexico. After living in the National Zoo in Washington D.C. for 26 years, Smokey passed away and was returned to the Village of Capitan to be buried at what is now the Smokey Bear Historical Park.
Featured in the visitor center are exhibits about forest health, forest fires, wildland/urban interface issues, fire ecology, the history of the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention Program and a theatre showing a 10 minute film discussing today's fire and forest health issues. An outdoor exhibit features six of the vegetative life zones found in New Mexico, an outdoor amphitheatre that is used for educational programs for school groups and the final resting place of the "living symbol" Smokey Bear. Also located at the park is a playground, picnic area with group shelters and the original train depot for the Village of Capitan.
On August 9, 1944 a bear was chosen to be the spokesman for forest fire prevention. The bear was named "Smokey" after a well-known Assistant Fire Chief named Smokey Joe Martin. The first slogan, "Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires" was developed and artist Albert Staehle became Smokey's creator. Within a couple of years, another artist named Rudy Wendelin took over as the Smokey Bear artist and stayed with Smokey until his retirement in 1973. Smokey's message "Remember only you can prevent forest fires" was coined in 1947. Events on May 9, 1950 changed forever the way Americans would look at the forest fire prevention message. On this day in history, a 5 lb. black bear cub was found after a forest fire in the Capitan Mountains near Capitan, New Mexico. Named Smokey after the poster bear, the cub was later sent to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. to become the "living symbol" for fire prevention. By 1952, Congress passed and President Eisenhower signed into law the Smokey Bear Act, public law 359. This law gave control of the image of Smokey to the Secretary of Agriculture so that there would be no unlawful use of Smokey Bear's image. The Junior Ranger Program began in 1953 and encourages children to help Smokey prevent forest fires. By 1976, well over six million kids had enrolled in the Junior Ranger Program. By 1964 Smokey's fan mail was so great that he was given his own zip code, 20252. The only other celebrity to have this honor is the President of the United States. In 1971, another orphaned black bear was found and sent to Washington, D.C. to become "Little Smokey". His training lasted for four years when Smokey retired in 1975 after serving for 25 years as the "living symbol" for fire prevention and Little Smokey takes over. On November 9th, 1976, Smokey passed away and was returned to his hometown of Capitan, New Mexico and is buried at the Smokey Bear Historical Park. The story of the "living symbol" closed with the death of Little Smokey on August 11, 1990. "Little Smokey" was buried in an undisclosed location in Washington, D.C. The Smokey and Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention Program turned 50 years old in 1994 and was celebrated all over the United States. The CFFP is the longest running public service advertising campaign in the history of the Ad Council.
Pictures and information were provided by New Mexico State Forestry Division
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