UAF limbers up for forest games

Fernanda Chamorro/Sun Star Reporter
Sept. 27, 2011

An unnamed woman throws an ax during the 2010 Forest Games. Jesse Hoff/Sun Star

Every year, the School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences (SNRAS) bids adieu to autumn with a tribute to outdoorsmanship. Next Saturday, Oct. 1, University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) students will compete in the 14th annual Farthest North Forest Sports Festival.

“This is totally, totally Fairbanks,” 24-year-old graduate student Kristen Shake said.

The SNRAS Department of Forest Sciences founded the event in 1998. The festival is a free celebration for people to showcase their woodsman skills – including axe throwing, crosscut sawing, campfire building, birling, log rolling and more. Anyone older than 18 can join and there aren’t any registration requirements.

Whoever shows up and wants to participate can compete individually or form a team of four to six people.  No experience is needed and most participants have little to no experience, according to Professor David Valentine, the host of the event this year.  The two best overall competitors will be named “Belle of the Woods” and “Bull of the Woods.” Winners of each individual category also can earn prizes.

Shake, the “Belle of the Woods” of 2009, competed against 120 other participants last year.

“You really get a glimpse of what Alaska, in an essence, is,” Shake said, “and Alaska is wilderness that people have decided to embrace.”

Shake hasn’t missed a single festival in the last six years – she has canceled other trips to attend. She recommends wearing “woolies,” which are thermal underwear, and staying near “the big ol’ bonfire to try not to freeze your butt off.”

Emily Hemenway, 25, took first place in the birling competition last year.  Birlers balance on a floating log in the water with a competitor and try not to fall off first.  “I’m looking forward to defending my title, ” she said. “I hope it’s not cold.” She has competed since her freshman year, 2005, and only missed one festival. She hopes to participate this year and encourages everyone to join the crowd.

“If you just show up by yourself and somebody needs an extra person, they’re just like ‘hey, come join our team,'” Hemenway said.

The festival begins Saturday at 10 a.m. in the Fairbanks Experiment Farm across from the Georgeson Botanical Garden. The competition will move over to Ballaine Lake on Farmers Loop Road at 1 p.m. for the water-based activities, which will end around 3 p.m. The Resources Management Society will provide free hot drinks and food.


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