Big trees for SJB

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Town to host first ever log climb/roll tournament

Morinville residents won’t have a midway or a fireworks show for St. Jean Baptiste Day this year, but they will have the province’s only speed-climbing competition.

Two 23-metre-tall wooden climbing poles were put in place next to the Ray McDonald arena last Friday in preparation for this year’s St. Jean Baptiste Festival in Morinville. The poles are part of the festival’s newly expanded logger sports event.

These are the only dedicated logger sports poles in the province, said Kat Spencer, a member of the Morinville Festival Society and logger sports co-ordinator.

“Each of these poles weighs 6,000 pounds apiece and costs approximately $3,000 to $4,000,” she said – part of a donation made possible through B.C. wood company Stella Jones and FortisAlberta.

These Douglas fir power poles will let the town host the national open tree-climbing championship, during which competitors will have to use spurs and belts to climb 18 metres, hit a bell atop the pole, and then get back down as quickly as possible.

“Coming down is much harder than coming up,” Spencer said, as you risk leg injuries if you go too fast. She smashed her knee into her chin once during this event when one of her spurs got caught during a descent.

“It wasn’t easy!”

New face for festival

The climbing poles are just one of the many changes made to this year’s festival, which runs from Friday June 24 to Sunday June 26.

Several changes are due to a shortage of sponsorship dollars, said festival society president Korien Sampson. Organizers are charging a $5 gate fee for the weekend for events near the hockey arena, for example (kids under five get in free), and have cancelled the fireworks show. There also won’t be any midway rides due to a scheduling mistake by the midway organizer.

To replace the midway, organizers have brought in every inflatable bouncy-thing you can shake a balloon at: laser tag, human hamster balls, bungee jumps and “the hungry hippo,” where, like the Hungry Hungry Hippos game, participants must grab as many balls from the centre of an arena as they can before they’re yanked back by a bungee cord.

“It looks like a lot of fun!” Sampson says.

Residents can pay $20 for unlimited bouncy-thing fun Friday, which also covers the gate fee for the weekend.

Other planned events include a parade, a show-and-shine, a kids’ tractor pull, the firefighters’ combat challenge, a dance featuring a live DJ, a murder-mystery dinner, and axe-throwing lessons.

“We have something for everyone this year,” Sampson said.

The logger sports competition has also expanded to include log rolling, tree climbing, and the choker race, Spencer said.

Log rolling is where two competitors run on a log floating in a pool and try to fling each other off of it, Spencer said. Almost anything goes in this event, so expect the water and the smack-talk to fly. The choker race is a speed event where competitors must navigate an obstacle course in order to secure a 40-to-80 pound cable (the choker) around a log.

The two-day competition will feature six Canadian championship events and about 50 competitors, Spencer said. The tree-climb will be dedicated to Ron Stefura, a former FortisAlberta employee who helped arrange a climbing pole donation and died one day before the deal was completed.

Kids and parents can also try being lumberjacks in the new “logger wannabe” event, Spencer said. Kids ages four to 18 can (if their parents sign a waiver) compete to chop wood, hammer nails, and tie chokers, or team up with their parents to see who can chop and stack wood the quickest.

Spencer said these junior events are commonly held at logger sports competitions and are perfectly safe with supervision.

“These are everyday skills of hand-eye co-ordination,” she said, and all the axes, hammers, and chokers are sized appropriately for kids.

“Kids are going to be kids … Let them try something with a little bit of metal in it!”

Visit morinvillefestivals.com for details.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.