NORTH FORK — The 60th annual Mid-Sierra Loggers Jamboree turned the ‘Exact Center of California’ into a timber sports mecca over the post-July 4 holiday weekend as about 100 participants and more than 3,000 spectators converged on the North Fork Recreation Center Saturday and Sunday.
During the two-day competition, a total of $10,000 in prize money was awarded as both male and female lumberjacks put on a show.
The theme for this year’s event — “Make Logging Great Again” — was displayed on bright green and orange t-shirts worn by this year’s officials and also many of the competitors.
Organizers of the popular event said they expect to raise between $50,000 and $60,000 to help support various community activities and events.
Supervisor Tom Wheeler, who donned a red, white and blue cowboy hat on Sunday, has participated in every Jamboree since 1961. But Wheeler had to sit out this year’s event because of upcoming wrist and hernia surgeries. “The doctors are going to do a little work on me and I’m going to try to be back competing again next year.”
Wheeler was still on hand to help to officiate this weekend — and to provide tips for some of the younger competitors.
The oldest competitor to ever win the Top Logger title at the competition, Wheeler placed fourth last year in the double hand bucking event.
“The Loggers Jamboree means everything for this community,” the District 5 supervisor said. “Without this event, we probably couldn’t keep the [North Fork] Recreation Center and Town Hall open.”
The North Fork Boosters Club, which sponsors the event, uses the proceeds from the Jamboree to fund its annual activities, which include operation of the North Fork Recreation Center and North Fork Town Hall.
Sunday’s competition featured 13 events, most of which required the skillful use of saws and axes — or the ability to remain atop a rolling log.
The Jamboree competition, according to organizers, “pays tribute to the traditions of loggers past” while showcasing the modern day skills of today’s lumberjacks — and Jills.
As expected, defending champion Nate Hodges took home top honors this year in the professional competition — his 11th overall All-Around title.
Clocking in a 16.32 seconds in the first event of the day on Sunday — the choker-setting run — Hodges easily won the race and appeared to be in top form.
“I liked the course,” he said. “It seemed a little shorter. I could get my rhythm.”
The North Fork native is a rising superstar in the world of timber sports and will compete later this year in the national championships, to be broadcast live by ESPN. Hodges is currently ranked No. 3 in the world in double-blade axe throwing and has already won more than a dozen national titles in the sport.
Over the years, the Hodges family has been well represented at the Loggers Jamboree, with Nate’s father Patrick, mother Cathey, brother Jerry and sister Amanda all competing in recent competitions, including in 2019.
Paige Thornburg was the 2019 Jamboree Queen, raising more than $12,300 in donations and ticket sales, an all-time record for Queen.
“This has been a great experience for me,” Paige said while rooting on her father, a participant in Sunday’s competition. Her grandmother Cathey is one of the event’s organizers and was grand marshal of Saturday’s Jamboree parade — and Paige’s great grandfather Blaine was one of the event founders.
“I really like being involved and helping out in my community,” said Paige, who will be a sophomore this fall at Yosemite High School.
Hazel Bates was the 2019 Jamboree’s “Little Princess” and raised more than $4,000 in ticket sales and donations.
And Wyatt Fonseca, 2019’s “Little Logger,” raised more than $1,000 for the event.
The sport’s future was actually on full display over the weekend, as junior lumberjacks like North Fork’s Sawyer Wilson also showed off their skills. Wilson wielded a cardboard axe while he and his friend Tucker Cibulskis watched the adult competitors in the arena, including Tucker’s mom Angela, who competed in the axe throw and Jack & Jill events.
According to recent statistics, timber sports is one of America’s fastest-growing athletic competitions. More and more axe throwing clubs are opening around the country — including one Jamboree champ Nate Hodges plans to open in Oakhurst later this year.
The Loggers Jamboree is held every July to “keep the logging tradition alive today,” according to Cathey Thornburg of the North Fork Boosters Club.
The event also features a parade through downtown North Fork and a popular “Choppers Ball” dance and social gathering.
Both amateur and professional participants take part in the competition, which includes “axe throw, choker setting, hand chopping, tree falling, ladies ax throw, ladies power saw, double bucking, Jack and Jill, speed axe, hot power saw, springboard, working saw and junior axe throw.”
Fanny Lingenfelter of North Fork was participating for the second time in the competition, taking part in the axe throw and power saw events.
“I think I’m better prepared this year,” she said. “And my sister bought me this axe for Christmas so I don’t have to borrow somebody else’s.”
On Sunday, participants in the professional event vied for a total of $10,000 in prize money.
Prior to Sunday’s competition, the Lions Club hosted a pancake breakfast from 7-10 am at the North Fork Town Hall.
To be eligible for the pro competition, Sunday’s competitors must have competed in a previous Loggers Jamboree, either as an amateur or professional.
The amateur competition on Saturday was limited to those who had never competed professionally in a lumberjack competition.
Here’s a complete list of results from this weekend’s 2019 Mid-Sierra Loggers Jamboree: