What started on May 17, 1986 as a new and different way to spread the word about fire prevention, the Smokey Bear Run, with about 250 entries, has grown to be one of the largest running events in Central California. This year's Sept. 22 event marks the 25th anniversary of the run/walk and race organizers are expecting up to 600 entries at this year's milestone event.
Brian Curtis of North Fork and Craig Pinkerton of Kingsman Flats, remember sitting over coffee in the break room at the North Fork Ranger Station with fellow Forest Service employees Danny Jones and Patrick Lyng 27 years ago.
"We were kicking-around ideas to increase the area's awareness of fire prevention and the idea of a 10K came up," Curtis said.
Along with the Forest Service, other agencies joined the effort including the California Department of Forestry, volunteer fire departments from Bass Lake and North Fork and Yosemite National Park.
Sponsors of the first race were The Pines Resort and Norby Lumber. The first race director was Pat Moss, owner of Fresno's Fleet Feet Triathlete. The event included a 10K, two mile run, two mile walk and a wheelchair division. All the events started and ended in the Pines Resort parking lot.
There was a two-year break in the event during 2000 and 2001 before a group of Sierra Telephone employees revived the event in 2002. The original committee included Carol Fletcher, Eva Busto, Kathy Kramer, PJ Grant, Laura Darling and Linda Oldfield.
"We partnered with Madera County Sheriff John Anderson, Karen Guillemin with Cal Fire and Paul Waddell with the U.S. Forest Service," Busto said.
This year's race chairman is Sheriff Anderson.
Busto said the event is designed for all levels of participants. There are a total of 76 age divisions in the Kids Run, Two Mile Walk, Two Mile Run and 10K.
Curtis, who had a 32-year career with the U.S. Forest Service, retiring in 1998 as the Land Management Officer for the Bass Lake Ranger District of the Sierra National Forest, remembers the early races well.
"I think we accomplished getting the message out on fire prevention in a new way," Curtis said. "We later added the Junior Ranger 1K Run and had about 50 kids in the first race. Every participant in the 1K received an Olympic-style medallion on a ribbon to hang around their neck. They each had their photo taken with Smokey Bear and they thought that was pretty special. We had fire engines on site and all the children got to climb up in the drivers seat and even turn on on the lights and siren."
Curtis said the key to fire prevention is educating youngsters about the dangers of fire and to remind them not to ever play with matches.
Pinkerton not only helped start the event, he ran in the two mile race for 10 years and in recent years has participated in the two mile walk.
Pinkerton retired in 2005 from the U.S. Forest Service after 35 years as a law enforcement officer and outdoor recreation manager.
"The original goal was to bring the general public, area businesses and fire protection agencies together to make the Mountain Area more aware of fire safety, Pinkerton said. "It's amazing to me that the event race is still going on. I'm proud that I was on the organizing committee and look forward to participating in this year's event."
The second year, race director Ken Takeuchi took over the reins of the event and has served in that capacity ever since. Takeuchi immediately made the 10K one of the races in the Central Valley Runner of the Year series.
"That gave the 10K more prestige and attracted some of the top runners in the valley," Curtis said. "Everyone loves coming to run Bass lake to run."
In year five of the race, Danny Wheeler and his four Mountain Area Pizza Factory restaurants, became lead sponsors and Beautyrest Simmons Mattress sponsored the 1998 and 1999 event.
Takeuchi is the most recognized race director in Central California. On Feb. 18, he celebrated his 1,000 event as an event director, including running, walking and hiking events, triathlons and bicycle races.
Since running in his first marathon in 1978, he has run 103 marathons (26.2 miles) and 55 ultra-marathons (up to 100 miles).
He was forced to take a break in his rigorous training schedule after undergoing five and a half hours of open heart, triple by-pass surgery on Dec. 15, 2009.
"Our family has a history of heart problems," Takeuchi said. "I've lost three brothers to heart attacks. It's hereditary."
Takeuchi, who says he'll never see 75 again, is slowly building his strength and stamina running five miles a day at Fresno's Woodward Park and participating in a cardiac rehab program at St. Agnes Hospital.
"It may take a couple more years, but my goal is to run another marathon," Takeuchi said. "The good lord has given me a second chance."
Takeuchi, who worked 35 years for the Fresno County Parks Department, retiring as the department's administrative officer, has a soft spot for the Smokey Run/Walk event.
"It's a family-orientated event that has kept it's popularity over the years," Takeuchi said. "It's held at a good time of the year at a scenic location and the course is fun because it's not a flat course like all the valley events."
Takeuchi credits the success of the event to the great volunteers who work long hours on the details of the run/walk.
The race committee pulls together about 50 volunteers the help with pre-race details, registration, race packet distribution and race day water stations, along with assistance from the Madera County Sheriff's Department and the California Highway Patrol.
"We can always use additional volunteers and I would encourage anyone interested to contact me," Busto said.
"Sheriff John Anderson does a great job of traffic control for us," Takeuchi said. "I feel good that the safety of the runners and the walkers on the course is guaranteed."
Takeuchi expects up to 11 wheel chair participants and their handlers to compete in the two mile and 10K this year.
"We try to treat the challenged competitors just like all the other competitors," Takeuchi said. "I've been associated with the Fresno County Special Olympics for more than 40 years, and I'm a strong believer that these children and young adults have the opportunity to be involved in events like this."
Proceeds from the race have always benefited fire and rescue agencies, schools and the community. In 2002, funds went to Putney Ranch, an educational and recreational camp for developmentally challenged children. In 2003, the sheriffs department Operation Lost & found received funds and in 2004 funds went to the Friends of the Oakhurst Branch Library. Those funds were matched by the Foundation for Rural Education & Development and a new circulation desk was provided for the Library.
This year's proceeds will benefit event partners Cal Fire, the U.S. Forest Service Fire Prevention Programs, Madera County Sheriff Explorer's Post 104, Madera County Search & Rescue and the Yosemite High School cross country teams.
Last year the event raised close to $10,000.
Sponsors include Sierra Telephone, The Pines Resort, Miller's Mountain Sports, Idea Printworks, Mountain Milk & Cream, Starbucks Coffee, Yosemite Bank, Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino, Palmberg Septic Pumping, Gold Country Bottled Water, the family of Choloa Chamipon, Idea Pring Work, Raley's, Tenaya Lodge, Hills Pride Inn,Sierra Ambulance Service, Clairborne and Associates and the Sierra Star.
"This event could not be done without our sponsors and the volunteers," Busto said. "Search and Rescue man three water stations on the course, the explorers handle parking and the Yosemite cross country team oversees the kids races and help at the finish line."
Busto said Sierra Tel is happy to contribute to the event and continue the tradition.
"We are proud that this event has been supported by the community all these years," Busto said.
"The funds we raise go back to the community through the services our partners provide for the residents of the Mountain Area," said Busto. "We invite everyone to be a part of this tradition and participate in the event. Weather you are a competitive runner or just want to join a great group of people and enjoy beautiful Bass Lake," Busto said.
"I'm glad I played a part in starting this event and happy to see it continue," said Curtis. "I hope it goes on for another 25 years."
Smokey Bear Run/Walk
Adult entry fee: $20 pre-registration -- $25 race day.
Kids' entry fee: $7 pre-registration -- $10 race day.
Pre-registered entries guaranteed t-shirt.
Registration from 6:45 a.m. to 7:45 a.m.
Races start at Recreation Point, 39900 Road 222, Bass Lake.
Road 222 will be closed to all traffic from 7:15 a.m. to 9:45 a.m.
7:40 a.m.: Special event
7:45 a.m.: Kids Run (half mile, ages 9-12)
7:55 a.m.: Kids Run (1/4 mile, ages 5-8)
8:05 a.m.: Kids Run (1/8 mile,ages 2-4)
8:15 a.m.: 2 mile Run / Walk
8:30 a.m.: 10K Run (no walkers)
Wheelchairs will start one minute ahead of runners.
For additional information and registration forms visit smokeybearrun.com or call (559) 683-1770.
Online registration: Active.com.
Participants can pick-up race packets between 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sept. 17 and 18 at Sierra Telephone, 49150 Crane Valley Road (426).
Last year's winners
10K: Male, Nester Ayala (34.39). Female, Lea Nibur (41.19).
2-Mile Run: Male, Kevin Chavira (10:35). Female, Christine Lawrence (14:39).
Kids 1/2 Mile: Boy, Tyler Frazier (3:10). Girl, Linnea Leinau (3:22).
Kids 1/4 Mile: Boy, Piercen Garcia (1:15). Girl, Elley Shaw (1:16).
Kids 1/8 Mile: Boy, Anthony Ruiz (1:00), Girl, Keira Lassen, (1:08).