Knot Pining: Speak for Smokey; because he can't


July 14, 2023

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has quite an opportunity for those looking for a deal when it comes to the Minnesota State Fair. In its email blast this week, it offers opportunities to volunteer Aug. 24 to Sept. 4 and get free admission to the fair each day you help out. There are a bunch of jobs - wildlife interpreter, greeter and crowd rover, display assistance, and working with the wildfire prevention program. But the one that captured my attention? "Voice of Smokey Bear."


Or maybe not. There are some strict rules about old Smokey that I was stunned and amused to learn.

If you are of a certain age, you certainly recall the sage words from Smokey in those wildfire prevention public service ads. "Only you can prevent forest fires."

But now, apparently, Smokey has been silenced. Among the rules about being a volunteer "voice" for Smokey is this, the DNR states: "Smokey does not speak (federal rule) so the voice should share fire prevention messages with people you encounter."

This volunteer will also help Smokey in and out of costume, making sure there are "no photos" of him "in less than complete costume." The volunteer will also lead Smokey around, since the bulky outfit apparently severely limits his vision.

"Turn left, Smokey, someone dropped their cheese fries."

This gig sounds like that "Weekend at Bernie's" film franchise. Everyone will want to talk to Smokey and be left to wonder who this lackey thinks they are in speaking for him.

And if any volunteer has "Bernie" thoughts of pirating off with Smokey and carousing at the fair and in Lowertown, think again. "Smokey is to remain on the grounds of the DNR park area." Darn.

Please send me your conspiracy theories on some of these strict rules.

The plot thickens with this from the DNR, which sounds downright anti-American and certainly a breach of the Constitution: "Do not discuss issues or topics unrelated to fire prevention. Direct questions on unrelated topics to the information booth."

What on earth does Smokey know? And when did he know it? And why has his voice been stilled?

The Ad Council would say "au contraire" when it comes to my paranoia. In recent years, Smokey has gained a presence on social media. "Smokey can't speak in person," a spokesperson for the Ad Council said during Smokey's 70th birthday year in 2014. "Online is a very different matter."

So Smokey has Twitter, Facebook and Instagram fans and "he's got some serious social media chops," one report at the time said.

But can we really believe that it's actually Smokey who's doing the posting?

The walking tours are only an hour long and twice a day, so maybe this gig isn't so bad. Until you recall some of the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds at the fair. Guiding Smokey might feel a bit like navigating a three-seat stroller down Dan Patch Avenue.

But hey, if you are age 14 or older, sign up. You just need to "be friendly and confident talking to people" and able to lug around a bag of trinkets.

If you do volunteer, let me know what Smokey says behind the scenes. I won't tell anyone.

Mike is a reporter and page designer for the Pine Knot News. He can be reached at [email protected]


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