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Gold Rush Days are here at last

Two day event celebrates rich heritage of mining and logging industries with competitions, but there's plenty of food to add to the festivities

Posted: June 24, 2012 - 12:06am
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Mike Frederick pushes a load in the men's hand mucking competition during Saturday's  2012 Gold Rush Days mining and logging competition. The 22nd annual competition continues today with logging events.  Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Mike Frederick pushes a load in the men's hand mucking competition during Saturday's 2012 Gold Rush Days mining and logging competition. The 22nd annual competition continues today with logging events.

Juneau’s annual mining and logging competition, Gold Rush Days, kicked off Saturday morning at Savikko Park.

The two-day event, which splits mining events on Saturday and logging events on Sunday, began around 9 a.m. under sunny skies and 80-degree heat with the jack leg drilling competition.

“It’s insane,” said Kevin McQuaid, 23, a heavy equipment operator and mechanic, after he drilled two holes 32-inches deep into a rock slab with a pneumatic air-powered drill. “I can barely hold a bottle of water right now.”

About an hour into the event, the quickest time was 2 minutes and 26 seconds. Two other competitors were tied for second place at 2 minutes and 36 seconds. The best ever record time for the event, set by Steve Crouston, is 1 minute 45 seconds.

“(Jack leg drilling) has been the backbone of the mining industry for years and years and years,” said Juneau Gold Rush Commission Chairman Jerry Harmon, a miner for 40 years and the organizer of the event. “They’ve been around for a long time. The drill we use today dates back to the ‘70s but we still use them today. I worked at the Kensington mine, and we still use them, Greens Creek uses ‘em, and there’s mines around that have nothing but jack leg drills.”

The day continued with the overshot mucker, hand mucking and spike driving.

Sunday’s logging events will begin at 8:30 a.m. and last until at least 5 p.m., Harmon said.

Sunday features speed climbing, cable splicing, chopping and axe throwing, to name a few. The crowd-favorite log rolling event will be one of the last events of the day, Harmon said.

“It’s a great event,” Harmon said of Gold Rush Days. “All of the miners that compete in these events are athletes. They’re not different than race car drivers or ball players. They put their heart in it, they practice and they have quite a fan club, too.”

The competition isn’t just for adults, either, Harmon added. It features kid-friendly carnival games, gold panning and hand mucking.

And those wanting to check out the action don’t need to worry about going hungry, Harmon said. The vendors under the big red tent have taken care of that.

“There’s lots of food out here to eat,” Harmon said. “You can come out here and get filled up.”

The official Gold Rush Days competition began in 1990, but its roots go back to “the early days” on Douglas Island when miners only had two days off work during the year: the Fourth of July and Christmas.

“They shut the mine down for those two days, and they had a mining competition on the Fourth of July,” Harmon said.

Gold Rush Days was formally established to celebrate past, present and future of Southeast Alaska’s mining and logging industry, Harmon said.

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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