Paul Bunyan Days: St. Maries logging celebration expects more than 25,000 visitors over Labor Day weekend

Climbing, sawing, dancing, camping, tugging, riding, drinking and one heck of a fireworks show. What more could you ask for on Labor Day weekend?

The 46th annual Paul Bunyan Days kicks off on Friday, Aug. 29, in St. Maries, Idaho, and continues throughout the extended weekend with logging competitions, carnival rides, a parade, fireworks and much, much more.

Throughout the weekend, organizers expect the event to play host to more than 25,000 people from all over the Pacific Northwest, including 10,000-plus for Sunday night’s stadium fireworks bonanza. For a small timber town of around 2,500 souls, event president Dale Hills says, “that’s not too bad.”

Paul Bunyan Days is not only a celebration of the industry that has served the town since before its inception – the first sawmill was built there in 1889, 24 years before St. Maries officially became a city – but also a tribute to the people who work the logs and a nurturance to the local businesses.

Live music, including karaoke, provides a backdrop throughout the weekend, and the carnival features rides for kids and adults alike.

The festivities – most of which are free to the public – begin Friday evening at City Park with the Pet and Doll Parade for the youngsters.

Saturday features the Karen Ebert Memorial 5K Fun Run/Walk, the Junior Olympics and the logging competition water events, which include log birling, canoe jousting and tight-rope walking.

The noontime auction Sunday consists mostly of items donated by local businesses and individuals. The proceeds are used to help pay for that night’s fireworks, which are no small potatoes, according to Loretta Graham, who has served as chairperson for the information booth since “I don’t know when” and has been attending the celebration since she was a child – back when it was known as “Lumberjack Days.”

“I have people stop by the booth and tell me that the fireworks show is better than Disneyland’s,” says Graham.

On Labor Day, some 80 entries will participate in the parade, which is about three miles long, according to Hill. “We get a lot of people from Lewiston and Eastern Washington farm communities.”

The logging event finals will follow the parade and includes the ax throw, cross cut and the ever-popular pole climb.

For those looking to quench their thirst, there will be no shortage of kegs at the Blue Ox, claiming to be Idaho’s largest “topless” bar … but you won’t likely see any females without their shirts at this roofless beer garden. “We have college kids come up from Moscow and Pullman,” chuckled Graham, “and they’re pretty disappointed.”

About 50 vendors are scheduled to participate so far, and countless other community businesses have pitched in.

As for accommodations for out-of-towners, the area offers a few hotels and bed and breakfasts, but many will be “dry camping” along one of the two rivers flowing nearby: the St. Joe and the St. Maries. Overnight camping at Aqua Park is allowed only during Paul Bunyan Days and for the first time will include a small fee to help pay for sanitation, restrooms and electricity that was recently added to the site.

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