Young lumberjacks showcase skills

By Evan Jones, @EvanJones_DE

The sound of chainsaws cut through 3,100 acres of forest in Makanda on Saturday. The crowd roared as the last competitor finished the heat.

Eleven colleges from across the Midwest gathered Saturday at the Touch of Nature Environmental Center in Makanda to compete in the 63rd annual Midwestern Foresters’ Conclave. 

Men and women from schools as far north as the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and as far east as Columbus, Ohio participated in a wide variety of traditional lumberjack games. Axe throw, log roll, bolt throw and underhand chop were some of the events performed. This was the first time in six years the SIU Forestry club has hosted the event.

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“There are around 15 to 20 events and they all have historic precedence in forestry and surveying in this country,” said Charles Ruffner, a professor of forestry. “A lot of the chopping and cutting events date back to the 1800s, where men would be working out in the woods cutting different log sizes.”

Beer and beards were a common sight Saturday and one of the bushiest beards belonged to Ted Craig, a six-and-a-half foot tallsenior from Vienna studying forestry and resource management. Craig competed in the bolt throw, log roll and tobacco spitting competitions.

“You take a big ‘ole dip of Red Man, make sure you keep all the juices in your mouth and spit it towards a piece of paper 10 feet away from you.” Said Craig, “You have to make sure you watch the wind.”

An estimated 200 participants chopped, cut and spit in hopes of taking the top spot for each event. They gathered around a bonfire the night before, sharing stories and making new friends.

SIU won the competition 18 years in a row during the ’90s and early 2000s. This year SIU finished second in the team standings as the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point won the team title. 

“This is one of the only sporting events where the loudest cheer you will hear is for the guy finishing last,” said Brad Sorgen business manager at Stihl Inc.

Stihl Timerbersports, one of the main sponsors for the event, held its own competition after the contest. Camera crews from ESPN filmed the event, which was a qualifier for the Collegiate Series that will be aired June 6 on ESPNU.  

Conclave team captain Eric Baumberger, a senior forestry student from Cape Girardeau Mo., represented SIU in the Stihl competition held after the conclave events ended. The winner qualifies for the national event held in New York state, and the winner of the national event becomes part of the professional lumberjack series.

“I can’t take time off of work for nationals, so hopefully I don’t do too well” said Baumberger, who is an assistant natural history biologist at the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Aaron Hovis, of Three Rivers Community College won the overall Stihl competition. 

Baumberger is one of the few SIU students in the Forestry department who already has a job in the field. Many students used conclave to network and speak to future employers.

“I think all of the schools brought their best teams, and this was one of the largest events I’ve been to,” said Morgan Schulte, the president of Forestry Club. “Since I’m a senior, this is my fourth conclave. We all worked hard and it’s nice to see it pay off.”

Evan Jones can be reached at [email protected]

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