Photographs by Special to the Democrat-Gazette/ZOIE CLIFT
This weekend’s Timberfest in Sheridan features a variety of competitions for lumberjacks.
Thursday, October 5, 2017
SHERIDAN -- The legendary Paul Bunyan chopped down forests with his mighty ax a thousand miles north of Arkansas. But Paul and Babe, his blue ox, would feel pretty much at home in Sheridan this weekend at the Grant County seat's 34th annual Timberfest.
The brawny North Woods lumberjack might well be an odds-on favorite to win some or all of the timbering contests that are a highlight of this busy festival, which includes a variety of other activities. Admission is free.
In the early years of ESPN, when that sports network was casting about for viewer fodder, the festival's Arkansas State Lumberjack Championship was televised nationally. That is no longer the case, but the competition continues to draw contestants from around Arkansas and nearby states.
Bleachers are set up in downtown Sheridan for Saturday's timber events. Categories, some of which may seem arcane to city folk, include chainsaw, ax throw, horizontal chop, Jack and Jill crosscut, horizontal chop, vertical cut and springboard chop.
In the springboard event, the lumberjack first hacks out a wedge about head high from a tall log and then jams a board into the notch. He then climbs to stand on the board while chopping through the log 10 feet off the ground.
Also on Saturday's schedule is the Timberfest Parade, stepping off at 10 a.m. Other activities include a pancake breakfast, a 5K run, a competitive bow shoot, a car and motorcycle show, a pinewood derby for youngsters who've built their racers from wood, and Dutch oven cook-offs for adults and children. There will be a petting zoo, as well as food concessions and crafts booths.
Timberfest visitors can further enliven their day in Sheridan by touring the Grant County Museum. This is one of Arkansas' top county museums, with seven galleries of displays that bring local history alive, including such memory stirrers as the county's first television set from 1947. Among the dozen relocated outdoor buildings is an evocative diner from the days when a nickel could buy a cola and a hamburger cost a dime.
One alcove of the museum is devoted to lumbering in the area, a complement to the Timberfest activities. On exhibit is a scale model of a logging camp. These camps "were established by lumber companies harvesting the forests of Grant County during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Railroad trams were built to carry the logs to sawmills. These camps had comfortable shacks for workers and their families."
A photograph depicts a river scene back when "loggers in the late 1800s cut cypress and other trees along the Saline River, tied them together and floated them to mills downstream. The crew lived on one of the rafts and guided them with ropes and a large rudder. A man in a small boat kept ahead of the logs, guiding the lead raft around river bends with ropes tied to trees."
The timber industry still plays a major role in Arkansas in the 21st century. The skills displayed by Timberfest competitors hark back to those times, when Paul Bunyan served lumberjacks as a mythical role model.
For more information on Timberfest, visit grantcountychamber.com/timberfest or call (870) 942-3021.
Grant Country Museum, 521 Shackleford Road, Sheridan, is open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Admission is $3 for adults, $1 for students. Grant Country residents are entitled to free admission. Visit grantcountymuseum.com or call (870) 942-4496.
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