Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Forest Sports Festival set for Oct. 4

You never know what you’ll see at the Farthest North Forest Sports Festival. Last year, a man in a g-string shocked the crowds during the birling event, showing himself in almost all his glory before being hurled into the frigid Ballaine Lake.
From one extreme to the other, birlers last year dressed in dry suits or nothing at all.

On the opposite spectrum, another birler dressed out in a full dry suit. Neither man won the “walk on a big log in a cold lake” event but both were memorable.

Hosted by the University of Alaska Fairbanks forestry professors, their colleagues and the UAF student club Resource Management Society for 17 years, the Forest Fest draws more competitors and spectators every year. Come Oct. 4, it will be time to haul out the axes and saws once again.

The fun begins at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm at 10 a.m. with ax throwing, crosscut sawing, pulp toss and log rolling. At around 1 p.m. the competition moves to Ballaine Lake off of Farmers Loop where three crowd-loving episodes occur: campfire building, nail pounding and birling. Teams are charged with splitting wood, making kindling, building a fire and bringing a can of water to boil. The most popular activity with crowds, birling, concludes the day. Competitors try to stay aloft on a big floating log. Just about every birler ends up drenched by the chilly waters of Ballaine Lake.
Pete Buist builds a campfire. (UAF Photo by JR Ancheta)

Individuals or teams of four to six compete. Even the team names are entertaining. Last year, a three-way tie had to be broken between the Wood Chips, Schaeffer Cox Freedom Riders and the Lumber Jerks.

 At the end of the day, the top team, the “Belle of the Woods” and the “Bull of the Woods” are awarded certificates.

UAF School of Natural Resources faculty developed the competition to commemorate the rich history of forestry and logging and re-enact old-fashioned forest festivals. While high-technology tools are the norm for forest professionals today, the festival pays tribute to a time when traditional woods activities were the basis for work and play, survival and revival.

Last year’s Belle of the Woods, Alice Orlich, said, “It is always such a delight to see Fairbanksans come out on a crisp fall day to test their mettle.”

Competitors toss pulp wood during the Forest Sports Festival.

There are no entry fees. Contact Professor John Yarie for more information, 474-5650, jayarie@alaska.edu.

Addendum (Oct. 2, 2014):

The farm manager has issued a request that competitors and attendees leave their dogs at home (or at least in the vehicle) because this event occurs at a research farm with livestock.

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