RUSH TOWNSHIP — He had a bushy, dark beard, and a plaid shirt. He wanted to try his hand with an ax. He was no Paul Bunyan. No, he was a student, from New York.
Cris Iorio, of Long Island, was signing up for the Black Moshannon Summer Festival’s lumberjack games, a competition that pays homage to central Pennsylvania’s history of turning the wooded landscape into a cash crop.
“This is my first time,” said Iorio, who was going to take part in all the Lumber Day activities, like nail pounding and cross cut sawing, but was most eager to put his martial arts background to work in the ax throw.
Meanwhile, a trio of plaid-clad lumberjills from Mechanicsburg were gearing up for their 10th year participating in the logging Olympics. Shannon Rebinksi and her friends Julie Lemner and Maura Esposito have been throwing horseshoes and tossing pine cones while visiting Black Moshannon State Park since they were just kids.
“We don’t miss a year,” said Esposito.
Last year was Rebinski’s first go at log birling, the fine art of balancing on a felled tree spinning in the water. She took second place for the women — and hoped to take the crown this year — but says log rolling, which involves pushing on land with a partner, can be more difficult as she and Lehmer try to coordinate their movements.
The festival has been a staple at the park for 27 years, organized by the Friends of Black Moshannon to encourage people to get to know what the park has to offer and get them to make it a regular part of their recreation experience. Environmental education specialist Michelle McCloskey said that many of the families she saw passing her information booth Saturday were people she met on their visit last year.
For organizer Pegg Culp, chairwoman of the Friends, the response this year, as gray clouds hovered overhead, was remarkable.
“I’m so surprised,” she said. They were prepared for the weather to affect turnout. Instead, they had 145 registered for the Lumber Day games by noon, with two hours still to go. “It just proves to me that we really have people coming back year after year, and that means something.”
The festival is the largest of six events planned by the Friends annually, and is worked on year-round, planning music, organizing vendors, brainstorming for new activities. This year’s events continue today and include fly casting from 9 a.m.- 2:30 p.m., a mountain bike ride from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., canoeing instruction from 1-2:30 p.m., and a “build a boat” competition from 1-3 p.m. that will challenge people to construct a boat and pile as many people as possible on it without sinking.
For some visitors, like Julian Black, 9, of Altoona, the introduction to Black Mo is just the beginning. “Can we come back next weekend?” he asked his parents. “I want to do more.”