LUMBERJACKS & JILLS - Teamed up with her father Tim Keech of Bloomfield, Laura Keech of Bloomfield yanks on her end of a crosscut saw during a lumberjack competition held recently at the Stony Creek Mountain Festival.
Katrina Davenport swung her axe behind her back, grimaced and propelled it toward a block of wood standing in a vise.
As the axe tore into the wood, a chunk flew past her lean torso, 145 pounds of muscle in motion.
With one more violent swing, she chopped through the block, over a foot thick, to conclude the “Standing Block” event in the lumberjack competition held recently at Stony Creek Mountain Festival.
The crowd joined other competitors in cheering her feat as she gazed toward the announcer.
Beads of sweat ran down her face.
“The people here are amazing — there’s a very genuine spirit, and everyone cheers for each other,” she said.
A few years ago, Davenport, 21, was an all-star high school basketball player in her hometown of Honeoye. Her school’s all-time leading scorer, she won a scholarship to a Division II school, but two years later, decided to devote her energies to woodsmen’s competitions, she said.
“This sport keeps you on your toes and in shape,” she said.
Minutes earlier, Tim Keech of Bloomfield edged out other competitors in the chain sawing contest.
His puny 1982 Homelite beat other hefty machines, including a saw powered by a motorcycle engine.
“My saw is a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” he said, noting much of the event’s success is in the expertise in sharpening the chain.
Matthew Mark was one of Keech’s competitors. In the “hot saw” competition, he was manhandling a huge chain saw powered by a 270cc Suzuki motorcycle engine. He was competing in 10 different events during the lumberjack competition, held Aug. 7.
“I love small shows like this, where you can interact a lot with the people,” he said. Marks is president of the New York State Lumberjacks Association, which holds dozens of shows per year around the Northeastern U.S.
“It’s a great town and a great crowd,” he said adding that his group plans to return to Stony Creek in 2012.
This year was the first time that Stony Creek had lumberjack competitions since 1991. For many years, it had been a beloved tradition that drew many people to the old “Mountain Days” festival, recalled Rhonda Thomas as she watched competitors rip through wood with crosscut saws, soon after hurling heavy dual-blade axes into a target. Thomas, Treasurer of the Stony Creek Chamber of Commerce, was a key figure in bringing back the lumberjack events as she helped plan the 2011 Mountain Festival.
She worked to revive the local tradition, she said, because she loved watching the lumbering skills competitions decades ago as a child, attending Mountain Days.
Thomas said the 2011 festival drew the biggest crowd in recent years.
“The food booths were slammed today,” she said on the fest’s concluding day. “And last night we were busy despite the rain.”
She said a large crowd enjoyed dancing under the pavilion to the mountain music of Adirondack Gold.
“The place was packed,” she said, noting that the night before, dozens danced in the streets at the town center.
Nearby, lumberjack competitor Jake Bederian, 34, of Warrensburg ripped through timber with his bow saw in an event-winning 7.39 seconds.
He said he enjoyed being back in front of a hometown crowd. The last time he competed in Stony Creek, he said, it was as a young teenager.
That year, he said, a competitor in the standing chop event slashed through his boot and cut his toe off.
“It’s safer now, there’s better safety equipment, and it’s more family-oriented — there’s no alcohol,” he said, noting he enjoyed competing in a half-dozen of the events in contests held across the state.
“This is what the Adirondacks was built on — lumberjacking,” he said.