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12th Annual Timberfest a Success

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Loggers’ and spectators’ spirits not dampened by rain

Despite the soggy weather, the 12th Annual North Idaho Timberfest held over the weekend of June 8-9 at the Bonner County Fairgrounds in Sandpoint went off without a hitch. Competitors hardly seemed to notice the rain, which was more pronounced on Saturday when the Local Challenge and Novice Class participants vied in timber sports. Doug Bradetich, chief of Timberfest’s planning committee explained, “This is just like real life with the rain today. They (loggers) have to be prepared to do their job in any kind of weather.” As Bradetich operated a timer, two men outfitted in climbing gear and a rope scrambled up 60-foot poles, made slick by the rain, in the Speed Climbing event. 

“It’s a mixture of skills that we showcase – some from today and some from a bygone era,” Bradetich said. 

The mud actually enhanced one of the competitions on Saturday, the Tug-O-War, according to Timberfest Manager Mitch Lippert. “It was a good crowd-pleaser, and the mud made it more exciting.”

Timberfest was launched in 1991 as a way to celebrate our region’s timber culture and heritage and to educate people about modern forestry. In past years up to 2,000 spectators have come to witness exciting timber sports events and view dozens of exhibits. Children are treated to activities geared specially for them in the Kid’s Timber Barn. This year Peppy the Clown (Floyd Bailey) and his trackless Circus Train were on hand to entertain kids, while Bonner County 4-H, Idaho Women in Timber and many other groups organized interactive booths to teach kids about everything from making paper to cattle ranching.

Each year, an old-timer is selected “Bull-of-the-Woods,” an honorary position recognizing men who have spent their lives working in the woods. This year’s recipient was Leonard Plaster, age 67, who has worked in the woods for more than 50 years, mostly in Bonner County. Plaster was awarded a plaque by Bradetich in the arena just prior to opening the logging events on Saturday. Plaster said he was honored to be this year’s Bull-of-the-Woods, and he asked the audience to join him in remembering the old-timers “who went before us and are gone now.”

Bradetich explained that the Bull-of-the-Woods, who must be retired, is chosen through nominations from peers in the industry. Plaster was nominated 12 years in a row, but “we had to wait until he was old enough,” Bradetich said.

Up until two years ago, all of Timberfest’s competitions were held on one day. Events are now split into two days: Saturday’s logging events were made up of Local Challenge and Novice Class; the Open Class (professional competitors that work the circuit) and Idaho State Lumberjack Championships were held on Sunday. Also on Saturday were all the truck competitions, including divisions for self-loader trucks, log truck loading and driving, dump truck loading and driving, and “Best Truck” recognition. Saturday night, the Snagfallers Ball featured Johnny Lawson and the Pack River Band. The Fireman’s Challenge, an event in its second year, was held Sunday morning and consisted of three contests; the Keg Shoot, the Make and Break Relay, and Tug-O-War. Both days the Equipment and Wood Products Trade Show exhibits were open, with more than 30 exhibitors; businesses from helicopter logging to auto parts were represented.

Open Class competitors, who have traveled on a circuit and/or have accepted cash prizes, were primarily from Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana, but one couple, Carson and Tina Bosworth, came all the way from Wisconsin. Local Challenge contestants are local loggers and mill workers who live and work in Bonner, Boundary, Kootenai, Lincoln, Sanders, Spokane and Pend Oreille counties. Logging events include: Axe Throw, Choker Set, Double Buck (using a crosscut saw), Jack-n-Jill Buck, Single Buck, Obstacle Pole Buck, Horizontal Chop, Standing Block Chop, Springboard Chop, Stock Saw, Hot Saw, Speed Climbing, Birling, Loggers Team Relay Race and Tug-O-War.

Mike Forrester of Glide, Ore., made it to Timberfest for the fifth consecutive year, and he finished this year’s event as the Open Class “All Around Logger,” a title for the competitor with the most cumulative points from all the events in which they compete. Forrester competes in “just about everything,” and has been in timber sports events since age 11 – that’s 25 years. Timberfest is “a good show with great, even wood,” and the way the event is set up and ran keeps him coming back every year, Forrester said.

One of the events Forrester won this year was Hot Saw, a timed event in which competitors use souped-up saws to make three cuts on the end of a log. Forrester used a saw he had bought last August for the first time in competition. The 320 Rotax built with half a snowmobile engine by a man in Wisconsin resembled a saw on steroids and drew much attention from spectators. Forrester, a professional excavator, just had back surgery in January and, apparently, is already back in top form.

A participant in the Local Challenge events, Erin Lavoie competed in Timberfest for the second year and won the Double Buck with her partner Sara Finneseth, beating out two male teams. Lavoie is on the SCC Gyppos, the Spokane Community College’s timber sports team. “I just love it,” she said of timber sports. “I was in gymnastics in high school and was bored with it. The guys talked me into giving this a try.”

Another competitor from a collegiate team was Dan Marvin, a student in wildlife biology at the University of Montana in Missoula. This was his first Timberfest experience. Although he hasn’t worked as a logger, he grew up on a ranch in a logging community and got interested in timber sports through watching competition on television and observing UM’s team. 

Possibly the spectator’s favorite sport is the Tug-O-War, a Local Challenge event. Four women’s teams competed this year, including the champion team three years running, R&R Contracting led by team captain Anne Ross. At this year’s Timberfest, they carried on tradition, winning their fourth consecutive title. Ross, who describes herself as an extremely competitive person, said, “Three or four days beforehand, you get this crazed competitive bug.” 

Ross allowed her daughter, 15-year-old Liz Krielaart, to be on the team this year for the first time. Other people who want to get on Ross’ team have to arm-wrestle her first. Margaret Porter and Brenda Anderson happened to be at a barbecue with Ross over Memorial Day Weekend when they were challenged to a match. “They both beat me – bad – so I gave them a call and asked them to be on my team,” Ross said.

“You never really know your strength until you have an opponent,” Anderson said. “And when you’re out there, you just pull on that rope.” 

As the rain poured and dozens of tug-o-war competitors dug in with their feet, a good-sized mud bog formed in that part of the arena. After their championship match, the women were wet, muddy and full of exhilaration. “We need to do this good, clean fun more often,” Porter said with a laugh.

Lippert took over as Timberfest manager two years ago when founding manager Shawn Keough, who is a state senator, took a position with Associated Logging Contractors. Lippert has worked in the timber and road construction industry her whole life as part of her family’s business, Lippert Heavy Equipment. This year’s event drew about 40 competitors in the Open Class, but the Local Challenge participant numbers were down, she explained. “With the economy the way it is, people are just getting back to work,” Lippert said. Some of the people who normally compete had to work on Saturday.

About 45 sponsors and close to 100 volunteers help make Timberfest happen. Volunteers do just about everything from manning the entry gate, to timing events and cleaning up the arena. As soon as the event closed on Sunday afternoon, a wave of volunteers entered the arena, picking up scraps of wood, hauling away the birling logs, and dismantling the equipment and wood used for events. Gesturing towards the arena as cleanup was under way, Lippert said, “This is awesome. We couldn’t do it without the hard work of volunteers, our crew and sponsors."

Billie Jean Plaster is a native of this area with close ties to the logging community - yes, this year's Bull of the Woods is her father-in-law. In another 50 years or so, look for her son, Luke, to be carrying that title.

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Billie Jean Plaster Billie Jean Plaster is the editor of Sandpoint Magazine

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timber industry, timberfest, Priest River, Leonard Plaster

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