Smokey Bear: Giving Bear Hugs and Keeping Your Forests Safe

I’m a tree hugger this Valentine’s Day, and so is Smoky Bear.

A big bear hug sounds like something most of us could use, as we’re still in the midst of COVID-19 restrictions. But we’re trying to get out more, and a bit of “forest bathing” seems like a restorative, immersive experience. We all know that sitting quietly in nature heals, but Dr. Li Qing explains how to accomplish this, in the book Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness.

This winter Smokey Bear decided to visit the Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks. It made for a fun and festive time in December, helped keep New Year’s resolutions in January, and inspired numerous bear hugs during the lovely month of February.

Now, bears at the zoo seem pretty relaxed, even as swarms of masked visitors chatter about how big they are (and how stationary they are, and for so long) at the Columbus Zoo. Smokey, by contrast, is ready to hit the trails and hand out his usual advice and guidance, along the way.

You see, Smokey Bear is a working bear.

“To combat the incidence of human-caused forest fires, the U.S. Forest Service established the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention ( CFFP ) program in 1942. … Smokey Bear’s famous slogan, “Only you can prevent forest fires,” was added in 1947 by the Wartime Advertising Council, known today as the Ad Council.” (USDA National Agriculture Library – – Smoky Bear Slogan)

“Only You can Prevent Forest Fires” ~ Smoky Bear

Smokey also enjoys his time in the woods — all the more reason to protect them.

One aim of the winter hike series is just to get out more into the parks, during the winter months. As the month of February slips by, some park visitors are visiting multiple parks in one day, to ensure they make it to each and every one, earning their Metro Parks hiking stick and this year’s medallion. The metal discs are nailed to the walking stick, commemorating this year’s hikes AND a different Metro Park each year.

Smokey is himself a visitor to the Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks, where he is welcomed – once his fire prevention message is understood. Do not attempt a bear hug with just any old bear. Smokey is learning this along the way, and with the help of the Friends of Metro Parks – join here:

What’s not to enjoy in these special Columbus parks? There are hiking trails to explore with friends, quiet nooks you could meditate in, obstacle courses, educational displays, and natural play areas. Smokey has explored it all! He’s discovered that they are easy to access and the park maps make it easy to find your way around. These are metro parks, after all, so Smoky has even had an opportunity to explore the downtown parts of Columbus, a bit.

But it’s safety first, so bonfires are always supervised, and only you should leave it to the park rangers and volunteers to build and maintain them. These folks know what they are doing, so Smokey can sit back and relax with a steaming cup of hot chocolate.

Safety is important on the trains, and in every part of the park, so always heed posted signs. If you stay on the trail you’ll never stumble into trouble. Ohio’s history has left us with some sharp drop-offs and beautiful waterfalls, but that’s a story for another day.

Smokey’s time in our Ohio parks won’t last long. But the memories he creates, the friendships he makes, and the experiences along the way will remain with him long-term. These moments in nature (together or solo) are important, and we can all do our part to preserve the parks. Become a friend to the parks, by joining Friends of Metro Parks.

It will feel like receiving (and giving – because don’t the go hand in hand?) a great big bear hug!

Friends of Metro Parks is a non-profit organization with a mission to enhance public use and enjoyment of our parks, seek out public support and advocate for our parks for current and future generations. We LOVE our Metro Parks… and we work to make sure these beautiful, natural spaces are LOVED and enjoyed for generations to come.” (Metro Parks Website)

As a tree hugger I, for one, am so glad I had the opportunity to walk along with Smokey these last several months! I’ll carry that bear hug feeling with me, especially in celebration of Valentine’s Day.

Join me on my next adventure,

~ Kat

Related Links:

About Forest Bathing: Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness

Columbus Zoo Bears: Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

USDA – National Agriculture Library – Smoky Bear Slogan: Only You can Prevent Forest Fires.

U.S. Forest Service: Smokey Bear Collection

Metro Parks Website: Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks

Friends website: Friends of Metro Parks


  1. As I say so often, your message is presented in the most respectful and thoughtful way!
    Your photography is to the point and gives your message an awesome platform!


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