It's easy to write off logging-centric bashes as un-environmental in nature — celebrations of deforestation, if you will. However, there's a lot more to these tradition-stepped annual events than you might think.
One part small-town heritage festivals and one part extreme logging competitions, lumberjack festivals draw out brawny guys — and frequently gals — to test their mettle against trees and one another in competitions of strength, agility and endurance. These aren't just ax-chucking flannel aficionados, either. While some are amateurs (read: real-deal loggers), many would consider themselves to be professional athletes in the world of timbersports.
As for the towns that host these flapjack-fueled shindigs, think of them in the same way you'd think of a rural farming community that revolves around a specific agricultural crop. Logging festivals, which nowadays tend to focus on promoting regional traditions and responsible forestry, are similar — they just happen to be a touch rowdier and include a lot more facial hair.
We've rounded up 11 small-town festivals (one of which is more an ESPN-airing logging competition than anything else) that break out the plaid each year and celebrate lumber-rich legacies.
1. Estacada Timber Festival in Estacada, Oregon
A wood-carved lumberjack greets visits as they enter downtown Estacada, Oregon. (Photo: Decumanus/Wikimedia Commons)
When you enter a sleepy Oregon town and are welcomed by a giant wooden statue of a chainsaw-brandishing fellow, it's safe to assume the town is home to a bang-up lumberjack festival.
Held each July in the Clackamas County lumber town of Estacada that's about an hour-or-so south of Portland, the annual Estacada Timber Festival has been (mostly) going strong since the 1970s. As with most logging festivals, the main draw is the competitions: speed climbing, chocker setting, double bucking, log rolling, you name it (a lumberjack jargon cheat sheet would help). The festival also features live music, food vendors, a big fireworks show and activities for the kiddos including pony rides, face painting and bouncy houses aplenty. Elsewhere in Oregon, the historic port city of Astoria also holds an annual timber festival with competitions for college and high school-aged (yes, high school-aged) loggers. New for 2015, the festival included a job fair aiming to recruit the next generation of Oregon's forestry workforce.
2. Loggers Playday in Hoquiam, Washington
Large trucks haul logs during the Loggers Playday parade in Hoquiam, Washington. (Photo: JOHN LLOYD/flickr)
It's only fitting that Hoquiam, a salty little lumber town on the Washington coast whose name is derived from an Indian word for "hungry for wood," hosts one hell of an ax-throwing, pole-climbing, pancake-scarfing hootenanny. It also doesn't hurt that the neighboring burg of Aberdeen's most famous/tragic native son single-handedly elevated the woodsman wardrobe staple otherwise known as the flannel shirt into a 1990s fashion must-have. It was here, in Grays Harbor County, that grunge was born.
Ripped jeans, buffalo check and "Nevermind" aside, Loggers Playday is quaint Hoquiam's big annual fete — an opportunity for residents to mix, mingle and pay tribute to the town's logging heritage. While the Loggers Playday centers around the "world renown" Loggers Show held at Hoquiam's historic, all-wood Olympic Stadium, any self-respecting Hoquiam-ite wouldn't be caught dead missing out on the other festivities: the Rotary Club's kick-off Pancake Feed, the Lions Club Salmon Bake and the Elks Grand Parade, which, in addition to the traditional floats and kooky small-town pageantry, includes a brigade of log-hauling semi-trucks.
3. Logging Festival and Parade at Maine Forestry Museum in Rangeley, Maine
Sure, the scenic lakeside logging community of Rangeley, Maine, doesn't swell with as much Paul Bunyan-y pride as the mill-heavy burg of Rumford. But the former town, home to the Maine Forestry Museum, can claim bragging rights as host city of the Pine Tree State's premier lumber-centric jubilee: The Rangeley Logging Festival and Parade.
Celebrating its 36th anniversary in July 2016, the two-day forestry fete includes chainsaw-carving demos, a biscuit bake, live bluegrass music, a classic Maine bean-hole baked bean supper and, last but not least, crowd-drawing Jack and Jill logging competitions. And while crosscut sawing and other sharp-edged events may be reserved for very skilled grown-ups, pint-sized woodsmen and women can get into the spirit by participating in the Little Miss and Mr. Wood Chip contest. The stewardship-promoting museum itself, home to an array of regional logging implements and artifacts, remains open to the public during the celebratory weekend.
4. Lumberjack Festival at the Sawmill Museum in Clinton, Iowa
Two men prepare themselves for a log-balancing competition at the Lumberjack Festival in Clinton, Iowa. (Photo: John Johnson/flickr)
True, Iowa isn't a state normally associated with dense forests and burly lumberjacks. Cornfields and randy farmers are more likely to come to mind. However, those living in the east-central Iowan burg of Clinton very much have wood on the brain as proud residents of the one-time "Lumber Capital of the World." (Go LumberKings!)
Formerly home to a whole bunch of millionaire lumber barons, Clinton was a bustling Mississippi River milling hub during the latter half of the 19th century. (The logs themselves were floated on rafts down the Mississippi from the boreal forests — the wild northwoods — of Wisconsin and Minnesota.) With the mission to "preserve, collect, interpret and explore the history of America's sawmill, lumber and forest industries," Clinton's Sawmill Museum throws the Hawkeye State's premier — and likely only — annual logging bash: The Lumberjack Festival. The one-day event offers pretty much everything you’d expect from a family-oriented lumberjack fiesta: an antique tractor show, live music and pony rides for the kiddos. There's also, of course, the main event: a heated logging competition in which an assemblage of strapping woodsmen (and women) hailing from across the country get their buck, chop and roll on.
5. Lumberjack World Championships in Hayward, Wisconsin
Seat of once densely forested Wisconsin logging hotspot Sawyer County, the city of Hayward is best known for three things: a dive bar, a 143-foot-long muskellunge and the world's premier international lumberjack competition.
First held in 1960 as a "way to acknowledge the rich history of the logging industry across the United States," the annual Lumberjack World Championship takes place at Hayward's lakeside Lumberjack Bowl, a former log holding pond for Weyerhaeuser's North Wisconsin Lumber Company that's been converted into a lumberjack arena of sorts. While pageantry may have played a larger role in the early days of the championships, these days it's less a folksy northwoods heritage festival and more a straight-up, ESPN-covered sporting event (sponsored by Dinty Moore, natch) that attracts ax-swinging athletes from across the globe. That is, the Lumberjack World Championships isn't a jamboree per se but a no-frills, three-day smackdown sans parade, street dancing and big fireworks show. Featuring over 21 different competitions, this one's all about chopping, sawing, pole climbing, boom running and, of course, world-class logrolling.
6. Marinette Logging and Heritage Festivalin Marinette, Wisconsin
While the number of saloons in Marinette, Wisconsin, has shrunk considerably since its raucous 'n prosperous salad days as a 19th century lumber boomtown, this curd-loving Green Bay burg situated at the mouth of the mighty Menominee River still knows how to throw a lumberjack-friendly bash (albeit a bash that's family-friendly, too).
Relatively young as far as timber shindigs go, the 5-year-old Marinette Logging and Heritage Festival, founded to "celebrate the richness of Marinette's lumbering history," is (log) jam-packed with festivities: there's a parade, fireworks, 5K fun run, live music, car show and, true to the town's hirsute heritage, a beard competition in which participants are judged in categories including "reddest," "sexiest" and "best try." The logging show itself, featuring crowd-pleaser events including birling, bucking and speed carving, is performed by Wisconsin's very own DLW Timberworks, a flannel-clad troupe of pole-scaling professionals that describes itself as the industry leader in "lumberjack entertainment."
7. Morton Loggers Jubilee in Morton, Washington
A wooden statue serves as a handy reminder about Morton, Washington's annual Loggers Jubilee. (Photo: Richard Bauer/flickr)
From the Kitsap Peninsula to the banks of the Nooksack River, woodsy Washington is home to a small handful of yearly lumberjack throw-downs. None, however, compare to the self-proclaimed "Granddaddy of All Logging Shows," the one and only Morton Loggers Jubilee.
For the past 73 years, hordes of brawny ax-throwers — and those who love them — have descended on the sleepy Lewis County outpost of Morton during the second weekend of August to participate in heated competition, a veritable lumberjack Olympics if you will: there's hot sawing, log rolling, double bucking, speed climbing, tree topping and much more. In addition to the logging show itself, Morton — former “tie mill capital of the world” — really gets into the celebratory spirit. There's lawnmower and bed races, a 10K fun run, community flea market, pancake breakfast, dancing in the streets and, of course, a Grand Jubilee Parade. And a logging show parade just isn't a logging show parade without a proper queen, right? Right. During the 60th annual coronation of the Jubilee Queen, the lovely Annabelle Caelyn Brown (sponsored in part by GasPlus Chevron) was bestowed with the coveted 2015 crown.
8. Orofino Lumberjack Days in Orofino, Idaho
The timber industry is no small potatoes in scenic North Central Idaho — an outdoor recreation-blessed region where "Mother Nature knows best." And Orofino, a small city nestled along the north bank of the Clearwater River within the Nez Perce Reservation, won't let you forget it.
Founded in 1947 as a way to enhance the county fair while "promoting the forest industry and the loggers' way of life," Orofino's annual Lumberjack Days fete has morphed into a brawny, saw-clutching creature all its own — nowadays, Lumberjack Days essentially is the county fair. Held each September, the three-day shindig features a carnival, two parades (one's just for the kiddos), a horse pull competition and, of course, an (organized) frenzy of logrolling, tree topping, speed climbing and springboard chopping along with bucking and sawing contests for both Jacks and Jills. There's, also, naturally, royalty involved. A couple counties north, the woodsy Idahoan outpost of St. Maries also celebrates the region's logging roots with the Paul Bunyan Days festival, a Labor Day Weekend tradition which features more of the same plus fireworks, a quilt show and the Blue Ox, a pop-up beer garden billed as the "Biggest Topless Bar in Idaho."
9. Paul Bunyan Days in Fort Bragg, California
Paul Bunyan (or at least a guy dressed up as the famed lumberjack) is on hand at many of the Paul Bunyan Day events at Fort Bragg, California. (Photo: Quinn Dombrowski/flickr)
Famed for its glass-strewn beach and Goldie Hawn associations, the arrival of Labor Day weekend can mean only three things in the Northern California coastal community of Fort Bragg: No work, no school and lots of photos ops with a dude dressed up like a folkloric woodsman.
And annual tradition promising a "lumber-jack rowdy good time," Fort Bragg’s volunteer-run Paul Bunyan Days festival revolves around a signature logging show that attracts amateur loggers from across the Tri-County (Mendocino, Humboldt and Lake Counties) area. Aside from the competition, there's more — a lot more. And somehow, Mr. Bunyan is able to make a special appearance at each and every event across town to shake hands and smile for Instagram. Highlights include a Mendocino Coast Audubon Society-guiding birding excursion, classic car show, fish fry, hot dog eating contest, horseshoe tourney, pie sale, Labor Day parade, ugly dog contest and the long-running Belle of the Redwoods competition, described not as a beauty contest but a "fun way for young women to make a little mad money." Phew! It's a lot to conquer so do like the locals and plan accordingly. Between all the madness, do find a moment to swing into the historic Golden West Saloon in downtown Fort Bragg for an ice-cold adult refreshment.
10. Squamish Days Loggers Sports Festival in Squamish, British Columbia
Participants compete in a log sawing event at the Squamish Days Loggers Sports Festival in Squamish, British Columbia (Photo: kyhuskers2/flickr)
The Great White North is, go figure, home to a fair number of annual festivities in which logs are celebrated — and chopped, sawed, climbed and rolled upon. No offense to Alberta but the Squamish Days Loggers Sports Festival, held each summer in postcard-perfect Squamish, British Columbia, is among the best.
With an economy that's traditionally revolved around milling and forestry (and more recently outdoor recreation-centered tourism), Squamish really gets into the spirit by dedicating an impressive five days to a variety heritage-celebrating goings-on, many of which are free: there’s a chair carving contest, bed races, 10K run, bingo, roller derby and the requisite pancake breakfast. There's also the perennially popular Squamish Days parade, the Rotary-hosted pancake breakfast and an Ax Throw Invitational, followed by the Logger's Stomp Dance — just think of it as Lumberjack Prom. As for the logging show itself, there are actually two of them — one for novice and intermediate competitors, followed by a world-class open competition. Both include traditional crowd-pleasers such as birling, speed bucking and tree topping.
11. Wolverine Lumberjack Festival in Wolverine, Michigan
Located "up north" in the heart of Michigan's Sturgeon River country, the blink-and-you'll-miss-it village of Wolverine — motto: "Enjoy Our Seasons" — is home to two parks, a handful of watering holes, 240 residents and one big annual lumberjack blowout.
While the village's status as a robust and rowdy lumber boom town expired back in the early 20th century, Wolverine still very much embraces its heritage: "Although the forests were timbered or burned off, they are starting to come back. Our students are keenly aware of the local environment and want to keep it clean and beautiful. We want to preserve the local lore and history of the past and collect our own history to share with the future generations." The volunteer-run Wolverine Lumberjack Festival, with its canoe and kayak races, wood carving demos, pancake breakfast, parade, tug-o-war showdown and buck/chop/throw/roll competitions, serves as a hearty hat tip to the past. Outside of woodsy Cheboygan County, the Clare County village of Farwell also hosts a rip-roaring annual Lumberjack Festival complete with a chili cook-off and chicken chuckin' contest. Wolverine's event, however, is the older of the two — it's been going strong since 1981.