Sawdust flies at the 56th annual Woodchoppers Jamboree
By Thorn Compton
ENCAMPMENT — The 56th annual Woodchoppers Jamboree and Rodeo was a feast for both the ears and the eyes down in Encampment over the weekend, which featured competitors from all over swinging axes and pushing saws to the crowd’s delight.
Both Saturday and Sunday saw an energetic group of athletes strut their lumberjack, and lumberjill, stuff while the crowd drank beer, ate barbeque and egged on their favorite woodcutter to swing their axe faster.
After the sawdust had settled on the two-day competition, Douglas resident and Rawlins High School graduate Dax McCarty took home the title of Rocky Mountain Champion Lumberjack with a full score of 59.5 and a purse worth over $1,300.
“I’ve been coming here for about 21 years,” McCarty said while holding his newest trophy. “I started off just throwing the chainsaw before we went and floated the river and I won some money so me and my partner went and bought a saw and started competing.”
McCarty smoked the rest of the competition; the closest competitor to his two-day score was Skyler Petit from Denver, Colo, who posted a score of 36.5.
“Once I get here I can’t not want to win,” McCarty said. “I’m just too competitive. I’m not sure how many times I’ve won, I won quite a few years in a row but then I started having kids and I let life get in the way. Now I’m back though.”
Since the event started in 1961, people from all over Wyoming have come to watch lumberjacks from all corners of the world compete for the coveted Rocky Mountain Champion Lumberjack title.
Bob Herring, of Encampment, has been involved with putting on the jamboree since he was first in the parade before the festivities in 1962.
“I have been helping out with this off and on with the lions club for 45 or 50 years,” Herring said while drinking a beer after the woodcutting had ended. “It brings a lot of people in that have never seen the community. We’ve been doing this for 56 years and it gets better every year.”
Herring said it was the family oriented nature of the event that keeps bringing people back for the competition — that and how good the competitors are to each other.
“We’ve had people form all over in the past,” Herring said, “from Washington state to Australia and New Zealand. The competitors help each other; even if a guy is in first place, he’s helping the guy in second. Everyone works together out here.”
Lumberjill in a Lumberjack world
One of those competitors from out of state this year was Leslie Land from Phoenix, Ariz. She and her nephew, Christopher, both took part in many of the events and were a team in the man and woman handsaw event.
What sets Land apart from other women who competed in the jamboree last weekend was that she competed in many of the male-centric events.
Land said she competes in the chainsaw and other non-traditional female events because that’s the culture she was brought up in.
“The reason I enter most of those (male events) is because they don’t have a lot of girl events,” Land said near her truck after the competition. “I grew up around chainsaws, so that’s why I enter with all the guys.”
Land ended up with second place in the women’s events, a close five points behind Barb Petit, of Denver. She also scored ten points in the men’s competition over the two-day jamboree, which netted her a combined purse of over $300.
She outscored 14 different men who competed in both days, showing that women could compete as a lumberjack just as well as the men.
“I’ve been working on this for 33 years,” Land said of her experience. “We took a bit of a break in there for a few years but we started back up about five years ago and we love being back in the competition.”
Land was the last competitor to the show on Sunday, and said “it was pretty (expletive) cool” to finish out the 56th Jamboree.
Chopping down cancer
A crowd favorite of the jamboree for the past few years is Kenneth Witt out of Eagar, Ariz, and with good reason.
In 2010, Witt was diagnosed with cancer.
Despite the diagnosis, Witt continued to work on his lumberjacking and said it helped with his recovery.
“It kept me focused,” Witt said. “Last November they told me I’ve been five years free. I had stage three lung cancer, I lost a piece of my lung but I’m still going.”
Though Witt has been competing in lumberjacking for over 16 years, he has only been showing at Woodchoppers for six, all while battling through and recovering from his lung cancer.
Witt said the atmosphere in Encampment during the weekend is what kept him coming back, even during the difficult time in his life.
“It’s not all about winning,” Witt said while standing with his family after the competition had ended. “It’s about the friends and people you are with and it’s about having fun.”