A team of volunteers from the Payette National Forest have sculpted “Smokey’s Magic” a 12-foot high, 3 foot deep sculpture of Smokey Bear in a wizard’s cloak with snowball in hand for the popular Winter Carnival in nearby McCall, Idaho. The Forest Service team, whose members all volunteer their off-duty time to the sculpting, are always determined to make a good showing. And Smokey Bear is routinely part of their team.
Payette employees and volunteers have a long-standing and storied history with the carnival. They have entered the sculpting contest every year since 1991 and have a wall of plaques, photos and awards at the McCall Ranger District office to show for it. They have won again this year for their efforts.
“It’s rewarding to be a part of something with such strong ties to the community and that provides a good source of entertainment for families around the valley,” said Forest Service employee and volunteer sculptor Nick Ott.
The McCall Winter Carnival has roots that date back to 1924, when the largest train to ever stop in McCall brought with it 248 people.
The Winter Carnival now attracts thousands of people annually who fill up every hotel room in the area for the 10-day event. Among the events are a children’s parade, polar plunge, monster dog pull and snowshoe golf.
But for many people, the sculpture contest is the main draw.
To successfully sculpt snow, pictures and ideas are sketched into a snow-feasible design. Then the real work begins with volunteers building rough forms from plywood and two-by-fours. They then fill the forms with a snow and water mixture and let them freeze for several nights.
The team then shapes and “slush-in” the blocks of snow ice. Slushing involves using a snow and water combination mixed in buckets to smooth, fill and define the sculpture features. Snow sculpture finishing work includes more detailed carving and shaping using a variety of hand tools and power saws.
The award for this year’s win hangs on the wall with the others, including in 2007 for “The Great Smokey Sphinx,” which won the First Place, Most Photogenic, and the People’s Choice Awards. In 2008, “Blast from the Past,” a replica of a Union Pacific train engine, won First Place and People’s Choice. And in 2010 “Smokey’s Wild Ride” captured Grand Prize with Smokey Bear rowing a scow through turbulent rapids accompanied by a bear cub on the back oar.
Any prize money won for the sculptures is donated to several local charities. One year employees created a local scholarship that was awarded to a graduating high school senior.