Libby Gears Up for Logger Days

By Beacon Staff

Whitefish has the Winter Carnival, Hungry Horse, Coram and Martin City have Cabin Fever Days, and Libby has Logger Days, an annual celebration of the town’s logging heritage. Mayor Doug Roll said the four-day festival, now in its 54th year, is one of the premier events of the summer. This year it kicks off on Thursday, June 21 and runs through the weekend.

“Logging has been slightly diminished in recent years, but we do it every year and it gives the loggers who remain a chance to celebrate their profession,” Roll said.

The mayor, like many other people who grew up in Libby, has fond memories of the annual event, including river raft races on the Kootenai River, the carnival and parade and the “Bull of the Woods” event, where two loggers would box each other while standing on a log.

“For a kid growing up (in Libby), it was the highlight of the summer,” said Jeff Gruber, a history teacher at Libby High School. “You looked forward to it all summer and then you’d go and spend all of your money and your dad’s money too.”

Gruber, who is working on a pictorial history of the Northwest Montana community, said the first Logger Days took place in the 1950s. At the time the event was a joint effort with Bonners Ferry, Idaho and was called the Kootenai River Days. The festival, however, can trace its roots even farther back than that, with the annual Labor Day picnic that local loggers and sawmill workers held beginning in the early 1930s.

The Labor Day picnic featured a baseball game and logger competitions, including the still popular Bull of the Woods. Gruber said the “bull” often had bragging rights for the rest of the year.

“We were a town of people who worked hard and played harder and so Logger Days is a natural extension of that,” Gruber said. “It was always about who was the toughest guy in the logging town, who was the bull of the woods, who could throw the best ax.”

Gruber said in recent years the annual event has been more about the town’s heritage, rather than its logging lifestyle. It remains popular. According to event board member Hope Kirschenmann, an average of 4,000 people attend the event every summer.

Another one of the highlights is the logging competition, which features a variety of events, including the springboard chop, axe throwing, log rolling and cross-cut sawing. But there’s more to the event than swinging axes and flying wood chips, like lawnmower races, a boxing smoker, a carnival and a parade.

Located at the J. Neil Memorial Park, on the north side of the Kootenai River, the only way to attend the event is by purchasing a Logger Days button, which are available for $5 in advance or $10 at the gate. Children under 12 are free. For more information visit www.loggerdays.org.

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