DNR unveils new Smokey at state fair

A sleek and "techier" Smokey Bear is greeting visitors to the Ohio State Fair this year. 

The 15-foot-tall guardian of the Natural Resources Park, located at the southeast corner of the fairgrounds, continues to voice his traditional message: "Only YOU can prevent wildfires." 

And he still mysteriously seems to know the name of each child that approaches his little plaza! 

But the new Smokey is a steel and fiberglass creation that can nod his head up and down, move his mouth and point a finger directly at approaching kids. Gone, too, are the guide wires that held old Smokey upright during pop-up wind storms.

While the new Smokey is less fuzzy and familiar, his air-driven motors also require less maintenance, according to Ohio DNR forester Aaron Kloss.

LF Creative Group of Cincinnati designed the new, animatronic bear at a cost of $80,000. A USDA Forest Service grant covered the bill.

Kloss said it's money well spent. 

"We have so many contacts here. We will reach a million people with this," he said.

More than 10 million fairgoers have heard Smokey's gruff warning regarding wildfires since 1959 – the year he first appeared on the grounds, according to Bob Boyles, Ohio's chief forester.

Adopted as a symbol by the U.S. Forest Service in 1944, the "real" Smokey Bear was a black bear cub rescued from a New Mexico wildfire in 1950. He lived a long, 26-year life in the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. and became an effective promotional tool for wildfire prevention.

As for the state fair's old Smokey, he remains in hibernation in a fairground garage as DNR forestry staffers look for a museum or organization willing to "adopt" a 14-foot bear who wears size 54-plus jeans. 

"He will go to a good home," Kloss said.

Smokey Bear is awake and talking daily at the fair between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.

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