The Fiesta was formed in 1947 as a fundraiser for The McCloud Loggers, the town baseball team. Although the team no longer exists, the festival continues to support other local programs.
“Each year we do an Easter egg hunt and at Christmas we put together gift bags for every child at the elementary school. If there’s a family experiencing a hardship, we help with that, too,” says Patricia Ballard-Faulkner, president of the McCloud Community Recreation Council and Fiesta coordinator.
Competitions like those held at The Fiesta originated in the early 1900s as a way for lumberjacks to prove their strength, skill and stamina. Today the festival is a way to celebrate community and to remember McCloud’s rich logging history.
McCloud’s lumber roots run deep. The first settlers homesteaded in 1829, but it wasn’t until some 60 years later when A.F. Friday George established the first lumber mill. Due to difficulty hauling timber over the hill by oxen, George’s mill failed. The town gained a foothold in 1897 when George W. Scott and William VanArsdale founded McCloud River Railroad Company. The two men purchased many of the small failed mills, including the old Friday George mill, and renamed it McCloud River Lumber Company, turning McCloud into a lumber company town.
In 1963, the mill, railroad and town were purchased by U.S. Plywood Company. Just two years later, U.S. Plywood transferred town properties to John W. Galbreath and Co., who helped the town transition to privatization. Over the years, McCloud has seen its share of ups and downs as companies tried and failed to keep the mill thriving. In 2002, the mill closed for good.
But the mill’s closure didn’t erase this small mountain community’s memory of a once-booming timber industry or dampen its will to sustain itself. Each year, several volunteers dedicate hundreds of hours of their time to organize The Fiesta.
Sponsored by the McCloud Community Recreation Council, this year’s event, held July 26-28, kicks off Friday night with the Lil’ Miss Fiesta and Lil’ Logger competition and dance contest. On Saturday morning, the day gets underway with a parade on Main Street. Afterward, at Hoo Hoo Park, kids show off their axe throwing and choker setting skills at the junior logging competition. Sunday brings the logging show and adult competition. “We do axe throwing, choker setting, single buck, double buck, jack and jill, and jill and jill crosscut,” says Ballard-Faulkner.
Though popular culture depicts a lumberjack as a burly, bearded man dressed in plaid and work boots, many participants show up wearing shorts, tank tops and flip-flops. It wouldn’t be unheard of to witness a woman as big as a twig teaming up with a man with legs the size of the tree trunk they’re sawing in the jack and jill competition. Ballard-Faulkner encourages young and old, big or small, newbie or pro to get involved. She says, “Don’t be shy. Everyone’s welcome to try.”
The action-packed festival isn’t just for participants who want to show off their brawn. Plenty of food and drink, music and shade welcome those who want to kick back and watch the weekend unfold. Others can browse more than 30 vendor booths filled with unique arts and crafts. Kids have a chance to see who can gobble up the most summertime fruit at the watermelon-eating contest. Afterward, they can cool off and rinse away the sticky sweetness on the giant waterslide.
Fiesta wouldn’t be complete without the Harold Benedict Memorial Horseshoe Tournament and Papa Anderson Memorial Softball Tournament, both named after beloved and missed community members.
Tradition, sense of community and good old-fashioned competition draws a crowd of nearly 3,000 festivalgoers to the McCloud Annual Lumberjack Fiesta each summer. Remember, you don’t have to be a skilled logger to experience the thrill of splitting timber. If the ker-chunk and z-z-z-zip calls to you, grab a saw or an axe and make like a lumberjack. •