SALINE COUNTY -- A rejuvenated Smokey Bear sign now welcomes visitors to Glen O. Jones Lake at the Saline County Fish and Wildlife Area.
Site Superintendent Eric McClusky said at one time, the sign was located at the entrance to Glen O. Jones Lake near the intersection of Forest Road and Glen Jones Road.
Over time, the sign became faded and eventually was removed. Apparently, it was stored at an Illinois Department of Natural Resources building at the site, where it remained unnoticed for a number of years.
Eventually, IDNR employee Jim Burroughs came across the sign, and thought it could be restored. He approached former Southeastern Illinois College art instructor Sara DeNeal about the possibility of having student artists help renovate Smokey.
DeNeal said it was possible, and Burroughs washed and cleaned the metal sign to ready it for restoration. IDNR purchased enamel paint to be used on the sign and delivered it to SIC's art department.
What would have been a fairly quick restoration project dragged on thanks to COVID-19, DeNeal said.
"We received the Smokey Bear sign in the fall of 2019, and the plan was after Christmas break to begin working on it that spring," she said. "However, at about the time we were going to restore the sign, COVID hit."
The state's COVID-19 countermeasures meant remote learning, which made it impossible to work on the sign. In the fall semester, art students only were able to be on-site one day a week, which made it impractical to work on the sign. At the beginning of the spring 2021 semester, DeNeal learned that the college was eliminating the art program, meaning time was short to finish the project.
"This spring, I told my students we had to crack down and finish it, which we did," she said.
Students Marisol Walle, Trenton Johnson and Mackenzie Gidcumb worked quickly to bring the project to completion.
McClusky, the site supervisor, said Burroughs gave the sign multiple coats of a clear finish to preserve the paint. Recently, it was installed near the concession stand area at Glen O. Jones Lake.
"We thought this would be a better location for the sign," McClusky said. "I think people who come here will enjoy seeing it and probably taking pictures."