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Gold Rush Days puts cap on logging, mining competition

Festival hopes to draw bigger crowds after park renovation

Posted: Monday, June 30, 2003

The cold morning air at Sunday's Gold Rush Days smelled of sausage and fresh sawdust. Coffee in hand, contestants gathered in the logging arena at Dimond Park, creating a sea of rugged flannel and the occasional pair of suspenders.

Shelly Kincaid launched the day's events by singing a thundering national anthem, and the games commenced soon after.

The show began with women's single hand bucking.

Emcee Lonnie Schroder was ready to begin. "We are in like a bare-footed burglar," he said.

"I kind of like to see the athletes," said spectator Len Chmielwski, a construction worker for over 25 years. "It takes a lot of skill."

Chmielwski, who cut wood for many years said, "I can understand what they're doing."

Pat Johnson, from Bremerton, Wash., was visiting Juneau with her daughter and friend from Haines. She was looking forward to the axe-throwing competition.

"I've seen this type of thing on TV," said Johnson of the logging competitions.

Of the events she had seen, she said, "I think I like those lady chokers."

Nikki Richert, who has participated in the Gold Rush Days for the past four years with her husband, Cal Richert, was one of the four women participating in the logging events this year.

Nikki said she and Cal started logging eight years ago with Oregon State University's Forestry Club, which had a logging sports team. Cal, a forester, is skillfull with a cross-cut saw.

Cal, who owns his own small-tree service business, plans to compete at the Great Outdoor Games in Reno, Nev., in two weeks (to be aired on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2). The event features competition in timber and target events, sports dogs and fishing.

"I kind of know what to expect," said Cal of the games. "I know how good I am, how good the rest of the guys are, and realistically, who I can beat and who I probably won't be able to beat."

Cal said he is ranked sixth out of the eight loggers who were invited to the Great Outdoor Games. He is hoping to make the top four.

Many spectators who came for the ever-popular pole-climbing events were disappointed to learn they were canceled this year. The Gold Rush commitee canceled the pole events because the poles were too old.

"They're the most fun, and they're the ones I think I'm the best at," said Cal of the pole-climbing events. He said the poles "are a little hard, a little sketchy."

"The turnout was the lightest I've ever seen it for both the spectators and competitors," said Cal of Sunday's events.

Cal hopes the Gold Rush Days renovation will attract more people next year. He said the arena will be moved towards the river, creating a more intimate setting for the competition.

"It will be better for the competition and especially better for the spectators," said Cal.

Like Paul Bunyan, the competitors in the logging events looked and walked like lumberjacks. Broad shoulders and strong, sturdy legs aided those competitors in the hand bucking and power-saw bucking events.

"The main thing is to use your whole body," said Cal. "A lot of people use their upper body, and they don't use their legs hardly at all."

Hand bucking requires a cross-cut saw, which measures approximately 5 to 6 feet in length. According to Schroder, Gold Rush Days uses a specially made M-tooth saw that originated in New Zealand. Men's and women's single hand-bucking competitions use a one-handled saw, and the team bucking events require two handles on either end.

Cal said one trick for being quick with a cross cut saw is " ... running the saw smooth, real flat, not rocking it back and forth." Another trick is " ... using the whole thing, not just short-strokin' it, using half of it."

Third-year Gold Rush Days competitor Megan Mattox said her favorite event is the single hand bucking. From Washington, she is currently working on her master's degree in forestry at Yale University.

Mattox said her success depends on the kind of saw and wood used.

"You have to feel it out and see what's going to work," she said. "You just got to keep breathing."

About being a woman in a predominately male competition, Mattox said, "It's fun, and I'm kind of used to it because I work in forestry."

"I'm used to being outnumbered and one of the only women," she said.

Mattox was thankful for Juneau's support of women's events in the Gold Rush Days.

"It's really encouraging, and we obviously have a good time," she said, as the crowd cheered for a competitor in the Ironman competition.

"The committee is great and all the competitors," said Mattox. "That's what I like about the sport the most, the camaraderie and everybody encourages everyone else."

Kim Andree can be reached at nrclerk@juneauempire.com.



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