Caroline Tan, an 11-year-old from Westfield, N.J., is pretty certain about a few things when it comes to natural resources.
“It’s not just about my art, but it does represent something very serious,” Caroline said. “We have to prevent wildfires, not just in art but in real life. It’s not something we should ignore.”
Caroline is the national winner of the 2012 Smokey Bear & Woodsy Owl Poster Contest, co-sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service and the National Garden Clubs Inc. Her poster depicts a younger Smokey Bear, shovel in hand, using a hose to douse flames on a national forest. Smokey’s motto, Only YOU can prevent wildfires!” is printed across the top. The drawing includes a match and a burning cigarette, pointing out that on average there is about 70,000 wildfires annually, most started by human carelessness.
Her poster was chosen as the fifth-grade level winner then selected for the top prize from nearly 22,000 entries. She received a trophy, a framed copy of her art and special recognition from U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell during a meeting of agency leaders and later during a recognition ceremony with employees. National Garden Clubs president Shirley Nicolai presented Caroline with a certificate and $100. Part of the recognition ceremony also included a visit from Woodsy Owl and Smokey Bear, who gave Tan a miniature replica of himself.
For winning the top prize, Caroline, her parents John Tan and Karen Li, and her grandmother Qianru Mao, also were treated to a stay in Washington, D.C., where they toured the Forest Service headquarters and local attractions.
The contest, now in its 51st year, is designed to encourage children in grades first through fifth to design a poster based on themes promoted by Smokey Bear – “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires!” – or Woodsy Owl – “Give a Hoot! Don’t Pollute” and “Lend a Hand. Care for the Land.” Garden clubs around the country help promote the contest and select the winners.
“This contest is not simply about art,” said Safiya Samman, director of Forest Service Conservation Education. “This is about immersing our children in the idea that we are all responsible for our natural resources, whether taking precautions against wildfires or becoming environmentally friendly. Our poster contest is another method we use to reach kids, particularly those in urban areas.”
As she and her family walked through Forest Service headquarters, Caroline seemed taken aback as dozens of employees congratulated her and when she became the center of attention during a leadership meeting.
“I’m very happy I am here. I’m grateful,” she said, smiling. “I’m not used to all of this attention. It’s odd, but it’s really fun.”
Karen Li said she encouraged her daughter’s interest in art.
“Because I like it,” Li said. “I tried to be an architect when I was younger, but my major was civil engineering. But I also took art classes. Then, because of this contest, we found out we had a garden club in our township, and she joined right away. She loves it.”
Caroline needs little nudging when it comes to being active indoors or out. She plays the violin and the piano, and will enter the gifted and talented program at her school this fall. Outdoors, she plays tennis and has planted a vegetable and flower garden with her parents. And she is active with the Rack and Hoe Garden Club in Westfield.