Smokey the Bear's fate in International Falls was determined in a matter of four minutes during the northern Minnesota city's Oct. 18 city council meeting.
Smokey gets to stay. That was never in question. But if the bear known for helping prevent forest fires thinks a change of clothes is coming anytime soon, he's got another thing coming.
For decades it has been tradition in International Falls to decorate the Smokey the Bear statue in seasonal outfits and other attire. Originally shirtless when it was unveiled in 1954, Smokey has been part fire prevention and part dress-up doll for International Falls residents. He's been adorned in giant flannel shirts, hunting vests, fishing shirts, and countless other apparel that match various seasonal themes.
But the council passed a resolution that forbids decorating Smokey, following a 4-0 vote that was first reported by the Star Tribune.
Why the chilly outlook from the "Icebox of the Nation" city council?
One, they don't want to degrade the importance of Smokey's primary goal of preventing forest fires. But also because other cities with famous statues in Minnesota think International Falls is crazy for dressing the bear in different clothes.
That's what Mayor Harley Droba said, noting that he talked to people in Alexandria about Big Ole the Viking, Bemidji about Paul Bunyan, Blue Earth about Jolly the Green Giant and Chisholm about the 86-foot-tall Iron Man memorial.
"They thought it was kind of crazy that we did decorate our stuff. And then they asked how much we spent in maintenance on him, and I said, 'Well, every couple years we put a couple thousand dollars into him and we just did $30,000 to get him up and running again,'" Droba explained.
"They just all told me that it's just crazy. This is your community. This is what you want to be known for ... and to allow people to put up anything on him, even with council permission, it's just ridiculous to them."
Council member Mike Holden, who admitted he enjoyed dressing Smokey the Bear from the 1980s onward, said banning decorations is the "right move" and it keeps the statue's message about fire prevention from being "degraded."
"We need to have a standard for Smokey the Bear, and that's where we're at," the mayor concluded.
You can watch the four-minute segment of the Oct. 18 meeting starting at the 40:05 mark of the video below.