When Ron Markel attended the world pro lumberjack event 15 years ago, he noticed that there were no interpreters and thus no way for deaf people to participate.
“We decided to found our own world deaf lumberjack (event),” he said in sign language.
Markel, a logger from Williamsport, Md., helped to found the Eastern Deaf Timberfest, a four-day event held this year at Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park in Mill Run in Fayette County. More than 1,000 deaf people were expected to participate by the end of the weekend.
Participants compete in activities including logging contests, water log-rolling, chain saw competitions, ax throwing, pole climbing, darts and horseshoes. The event also featured a Mr. and Ms. Timberfest competition as well as entertainment and activities for children.
This is the 11th Eastern Deaf Timberfest, which started as a yearly event and now is held every two years. It’s held at various locations across the East, and this is its first time in Western Pennsylvania. The event is organized by a committee of volunteers, and it’s held every other year at a different campsite.
On Timberfest off years, a family camp is held.
The vast majority of participants are deaf, Markel said, though a few hearing children of deaf parents participate. Markel and the other participants spoke through volunteer interpreter David Wright of Orange County, Va.
“I am proud of 1,000 deaf people. Deaf power,” Markel said, as he used his hand to cover his ear, then pumped his arm in the air.
As Markel signed, participants nearby practiced climbing a tall wooden pole while others tried their hand at cutting through a hefty log with a chain saw. In both events, participants compete for the best time.
At first, many deaf people didn’t know how to use the tools for the event, Markel said, but they’ve learned and become experts.
Markel, who serves as the event’s logging assistant director, attends workshops and courses to learn about safety guidelines.
“It is completely run by the deaf,” Marie Ann Campbell, the event’s chairwoman, said.
She said she finds Timberfest exciting.
“If it wasn’t for Timberfest, we wouldn’t have the time to be with our friends,” said Campbell, of Charles Town, W.Va.
Attendees travel from Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and even the West Coast, she said.
Participants either stay on the campgrounds or at nearby hotels.
Rick Colosimone traveled from Ottawa, Ont., and called the event a “heartfelt” one, full of “warm friendship.”
Bruce Hubbard, one of the founders, said he knows of four other similar events in the nation. Campbell calls him “grandfather of the Timberfest.”
Beth Hortie, executive director of Eastern Deaf Timberfest, said the event brings everyone together talking about wood, relaxing and sharing in fellowship with one another.
“It’s our leisure, recreation activity,” Hortie said.