Hundreds of people, including prominent federal and state conservation leaders, flocked to International Falls Oct. 13, 1954, to dedicate the Smokey Bear statue at the Borderland community.
The Daily Journal reported the dedication was a full-scale community celebration. Students were dismissed from school early, several metropolitan news outlets had representation to cover the event and stores extended open hours to accommodate visitors.
Smokey Bear and the two cubs received a big welcome to town.
Sixty-five years later, the iconic statue will again be celebrated.
The 65th anniversary of the statue in International Falls is the theme of the Fourth of July festivities scheduled for next week. In addition to the local anniversary, this year also celebrates the 75th year the fictional bear has been used as an icon for the U.S. Forest Service.
“It seemed fitting,” said Falls Mayor Bob Anderson of centering the festivities around the Smokey Bear theme. “We have a planning committee that likes to have the theme decided by May... and this (theme) was the most popular.”
Anderson said the Smokey Bear statue is likely the most photographed item in the community, and city officials have spent days leading up to the festivities re-energizing the color.
“Smokey will look great,” he said.
The annual July 4 parade will celebrate what Smokey stands for — the prevention of forest fires. Nick Riley, smokejumper firefighter, will serve as the grand marshal of the event.
“I think it will be a great event,” Anderson said.
In addition, the parade will feature a 1928 Model AA Ford Stake Truck, used by the Minnesota Forest Service, a precursor to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry.
“It is an original Minnesota Forest Service truck from the 1930s,” said Matt Wappler, MnDNR Littlefork area forest supervisor.
According to information Wappler provided to The Journal, The Minnesota Forest Service was among the early purchasers of the Model AA Truck. This one was produced mid-1928 and began its work in the Moose Lake region. It carried tools, seed trees and workers in its early years of service.
The truck was restored by William Appelgate, 90, who lived in Iowa. Appelgate worked on the restoration from 2007-2009, with limited — but important — counsel and technical assistance from friends and family.
Wappler said the truck is now a shared resource around the state.
“We look forward to sharing it with our local communities this Fourth of July,” he said.
In addition to the parade, set for 1 p.m. along Third Street July 4, the annual celebration includes a new event as well as returning favorites.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2948 will host kids karaoke and trivia from 7-8 p.m. July 3 in Smokey Bear Park.
“That is something new,” Anderson said. “Kids can get up there and do some singing and the VFW will award prizes for that... The VFW is also passing out over 1,400 U.S. flags to children again this year.”
July 3 will also feature booths in the park, beer gardens and concerts from 8 p.m. to midnight.
The Fourth of July in International Falls kicks off with the Bronco 5-kilometer run/walk at Falls High School. Booths and craft tables will be offered starting at 11 a.m.
The kiddie parade begins at 12:30 p.m. and the main parade will kick off at 1 p.m. along Third Street.
Kiddie races, the chip pile, a watermelon feed and music in the park will follow the parades.
“The chip pile is always a great hit,” Anderson said. “This year, there will be over $500 in the chip pile for the children... That is a terrific offering. All those activities make the summer for children.”
The mayor said for many years, the July 4 holiday serves a a draw home for many former residents, with current residents welcoming them with open arms for the much-awaited celebration.
“There’s always a good celebration here,” he said. “We just need good weather and everything will be in place. I look forward to this every year.”
Festivities wrap up at 10:15 p.m. July 4 with fireworks near the Falls High School track.