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River City Lumberjack Festival July 31 Brings Back Real Paul Bunyans

A Century After the Axes Fell Quiet, Timber Fellers Will Hit Riverfront

July 20, 2004       Leave a Comment
By: Dave Rogers

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Dee Dee Wacksman and Jake Hutter of the Bay County Historical Society prepare to promote the River City Lumberjack Festival with an elaborate press information kit including an inscribed tree round.

      On Saturday, July 31 the banks of the Saginaw River in Veterans Park will sound like they did more than a century ago when real Paul Bunyans populated the area.

      The event is the River City Lumberjack Festival, sponsored by the Bay County Historical Society. The event is an international competition formerly held in Mio.

      Crowds of 3,000 to 5,000 persons are expected and will thrill to the world class chopping and sawing of dozens of expert woodsmen from around the globe.

      The event will reprise the heady days of the late 1800s when Bay City was the lumber capital of the world and 100 lumber mills stretched along the river from here to Saginaw.

      The event will begin with a Lumberjack Breakfast at 8:30 a.m. next to the Trombley/Centre House.

      Competition from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. will include pro stock saw, powder puff stock saw (women), 2-man cross cut saw, single buck, 0-5 modified, Jack & Jill Cross Cut, axe throw, water boil, underhand chop, and 5 and up modified.

      Water boil is among the most interesting events. Contestants must shave enough wood to produce a fire that will boil water.

      Record-holding competitors who will be on hand include Jason and Phil Helsel, 5.87 seconds in the 2-man cross cut (3 cuts); Cliff Helsel, 2.26 seconds in the hot saw (3 cuts); and Ken and Robert Freeman, who have won three Ohio State Lumberjack Competitions.

      Proceeds benefit the new Bay County History Gallery in the Historical Museum of Bay County, 321 Washington Avenue. The museum will complete nearly 10 years and $1.25 million of improvements to the building and exhibits in January 2005.

      Final phase will be a 3,700 square foot exhibit gallery housing non-marine exhibits relating to the unique heritage of Bay County from pre-historic contact days through the present. A similar 2,500 square foot gallery dedicated to Bay County's maritime heritage was opened in 2001.

      The new gallery will feature exhibits with the following topics:
  • Anishinabe: (Native Americans), their history, culture and spirituality;

  • Fur trade: Bay County is a major factor as Michigan's economy develops;

  • El Dorado of the North: How lumber, "Green Gold" makes Bay County one of the most important lumbering centers in the nation;

  • Abolitionists, Presidential candidates and Civil War heroes: Three generations of the James G. Birney family leave their mark on Bay County;

  • Aladdin's "Built in a Day": Rise of ready-cut homes and Bay County's world leadership in a new industry;

  • Votes for Women: Bay City's May Stocking Knaggs advocates women's suffrage;

  • Over Niagara Falls in a Barrel: Annie Edson Taylor, Bay City school teacher, turns daredevil;

  • Remember the Maine: Bay Cityans in the Spanish-American War in Cuba;

  • The Boys from Bay City: The 128th Ambulance Corps and World War I;

  • Sweet Energy: Monitor Sugar's Sweet 100 Years;

  • The Wenonah: Bay City's Grande Dame hotel;

  • Cedar Point North: Wenona Beach Amusement Park on Saginaw Bay.

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    Dave Rogers

    Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
    respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
    (Contact Dave Via Email at

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