Woodsmen’s Days will return this weekend

Rick Skiff of Tupper Lake hangs on to the greased pole during another successful night for Team Dozer at the 2017 Woodsmen’s Days, which returns this weekend. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

TUPPER LAKE — Loggers around the Tri-Lakes are practicing their skidder-driving precision, sharpening their saws and preparing to scale a greased pole at the 35th Tupper Lake Woodsmen’s Days weekend.

Starting on Friday, the weekend of competition, feats of strength and lumberjack lifestyle will continue an annual tradition started in 1983 to celebrate the town’s logging heritage, gather the men and women currently working the woods, and introduce youngsters and non-locals to the skill, strength and saws it takes to be a lumberjack.

“Tupper was always a big industry logging town. Now it’s more tourism; the whole Adirondack Park seems to be more tourist-based,” said Nielson Snye, president of the Tupper Lake Woodsmen’s board. “We try to keep the tradition of the logging towns going. There is still a prominent industry in the forestry business in the Adirondacks, and we try to acknowledge the people that are in it.”

Snye, a third-generation logger himself, said the event, much like the industry, is in need of workers in recent years. Volunteers will set up the entire competition field at the Municipal Park through this week, and Snye said they can use all the help they can get.

Though the event does not attract the same massive crowd of logging vendors as it did in the past, the event has lost its trade show aspect over the last 10 years, but remains a competitive event, drawing several thousand visitors to compete and spectate.

The heavy equipment contests involve cutting trees, loading them on skidders, cutting them up and loading them onto trucks to be driven through an obstacle coarse. They usually have 25 to 30 competitors each, including local logging companies such as Paul Mitchell, O’Neill Brothers and Richards, as well as other companies from around the area.

The heavy equipment operators will compete individually and in four-man teams to win the distinction of “Operator of the Year.”

On Thursday, 15 chainsaw carvers will start working on large wood blocks to create expressive and functional pieces that will be sold at auctions on Saturday and Sunday, carving as many as they can in the 48 hours. The top seven money-makers will get an invitation to a statewide carving competition in Boonville.

At night, the public games heat up. All it takes to participate in the greased pole climb and tug of war events is a seven-person team, with everyone over 18 years old. However, Snye said, it is going to take quite the group if someone wants to defeat Team Dozer in the pole climb.

“It’s going to be hard to beat the Skiff boys,” Snye said. “They’ve won 10 years in a row.”

Snye said the event is about building the camaraderie that is a crucial part of the logging trade.

“I grew up in the industry; I love to be outdoors,” Snye said. “It’s about having a good crew. You get that camaraderie. It’s rewarding to be able to work as a team.”

With some in the logging industry seeing each other only once a year at Woodsmen’s Days, it is about more than building camaraderie between team members: It’s about building camaraderie between loggers, industry-wide.

Snye said logging is a lifestyle. Spending long days doing physical labor in the woods might not be for everyone, but with the profession being safer than ever and employers needing to staff logging crews, there is room for anyone who wants to join.