JEFFERSON — The most modern equipment and latest forestry techniques were on full display Saturday at the 60th Annual Forest Field Day at Hidden Valley Nature Center, but the highlight of the event may well have been the old fashioned handsaws, axes and chainsaws in the hands of the Unity College woodsmen.

“We bring the history,” said Blake Wilder, a senior studying conservation law and Woodsmen Team captain.

Hundreds of people braved morning heat and afternoon storms to take part in this year’s event at Hidden Valley, a 1,000-acre wilderness educational center off Egypt Road. The day featured dozens of displays, speakers and presentations, including sessions on managing woodlands for wildlife, birds, wildflowers and mushrooms. There were guided nature and bog walks and sessions on tree pruning and trail constructions.

The Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine (SWOAM) and Maine Tree Farm organize the yearly event. They chose Hidden Valley to host the field day after it was named the outstanding tree farm in the northeast by American Tree Farm System. SWOAM President Rich Merk said the field day is held to honor the outstanding tree farms and to allow people from various forestry groups to share their insights and experience.

“It’s one thing to hear about what you should be doing on your land; it’s another to go where they’ve actually accomplished the task,” Merk said. “It makes it more attainable.”

Holding the event at Hidden Valley proved particularly useful, Merk said, because the nonprofit manages the woodland for unusual purposes, such as attracting specific birds or growing wildflowers.

“It’s fun to see the variety,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of people who enjoy just walking on the land.”

But the field day was not only useful in promoting Hidden Valley. Wilder said attending the events gave Unity woodsmen a chance to introduce people to competitive lumber-jacking. The club travels throughout New England and parts of Canada for competition.

“It really raises awareness for us as individuals and as a sport,” he said. “It’s progressively getting bigger and bigger.”

Mackenzie Smith, a wilderness biology sophomore at Unity, never cut or chopped wood growing up in Rhode Island, but she is now a member of the women’s team.

“It’s just fun,” she said. “A lot of my friends do it. It’s a new experience.”

One of those friends, Monica Spataford, of Steuben, was skeptical when she first heard about the club. Spataford had helped cut firewood before, but she was dubious about doing it for enjoyment.

“That didn’t sound like fun,” she said. “But then there was ax throwing and it was like, I’m already loving this.”

Like Smith, Howie Asal, a sophomore conservation law major, never cut wood growing up in Connecticut, but on Saturday he briefly took center stage in demonstrating the disk stack. The competition involved using a chainsaw to make thin slices in an upright log, leaving as many disks as possible piled up without toppling over.

“When you’re almost finished you pop the saw,” Asal said, explaining his technique.

Asal’s best is 21. He reached 14 on Saturday.

“It’s like pulling the table cloth from a table full of dishes,” said Sean Monaghan, a wildlife biology major from Connecticut.

Monaghan, like every other member of his team, was dripping with sweat after just a few demonstrations.

“I’m in probably the best shape of life,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun, but it’s hard.”

One of Monaghan’s favorite events is the fire build, during which competitors are given a block of wood and a can containing soapy water. The first person to build a fire and get the water to boil wins. Monaghan said competitors blow on the flames to create as much heat as possible.

“It’s an intense competition,” he said. “My motto is if your eyebrows aren’t burned afterwards, you did it wrong.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4

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