NEW HAVEN — While many Vermonters would tell you that the forestry and agriculture sectors of the state go hand-in-hand, it wasn’t until 1992 that the Addison County Fair & Field Days, the state’s largest agricultural fair, had a forestry section.
“The first time I came to the fair, all we had was tents,” 76-year-old Frank Bigelow recalled of helping start up the forestry pavilion as an employee of the Department of Forest Services back in 1992. “Some of them had holes and then the wind would come up and blow ’em right across the field! We had some good times.”
At the 65th annual Field Days this week, fairgoers on their way to the tractor pulls could hardly miss the animated display going on at the forestry pavilion, which this year includes live demonstrations by area loggers and carvers, and educational displays from local forestry businesses. It is all housed inside a handsome structure made of dozens of different kinds of wood from within 50 miles of the New Haven fairground.
“It’s prime real estate,” laughed Addison County Forester Chris Olson, taking a break to look over the scene.
He added that the diversity of the forestry display reflected both the myriad talents and the personalities of Addison County’s forestry workers.
“Every (forestry vendor) is different,” Olson said. “They’ve each got their own skill and their own abilities, both artistic and industrial … And they all find themselves here. They choose to be here. I ask, but they volunteer.”
As onlookers snapped pictures, brothers Brett and Tom Sargent, along with friend and fellow carver Chris Nelson (who recently started Top Notch Tree Carvings), fed logs through a sawmill.
Most of the logs were used for a demonstration of how to construct a wooden footbridge, but a few went to Brett Sargent, who began to carve them into intricate, totem-style poles with animal and human figures.
He recently stopped logging in order to work on those carvings exclusively, which he sells online and locally through his business, Five Town Carvings.
“It started out as a hobby of course, like it always does, but I really fell in love with doing it,” said Sargent, a Lincoln resident. “I love wildlife. I’m always outside anyway.”
This is the first year the forestry pavilion features a carving exhibition, and on Tuesday the totem poles were proving to be a big attraction.
For Sargent, who grew up coming to Field Days but had not attended in recent years, it felt good to be back.
“I’ve been coming out to the fair forever, since I was a baby I guess,” he said with a laugh. “We just love to come out here. It’s hard work, of course, and we’re not getting paid to saw this lumber for somebody but you have all these people coming by, you get your name out there. It’s great. Everyone helps out and we love to do it — everyone’s just a family out here, especially in the forestry part here.”
Now a Forest Service volunteer in his retirement, Bigelow still comes to the fair each year to oversee the forestry display, something that he will do for as long as his health allows.
“It has to be anything that’s made of wood and has to be educational,” Bigelow said of the forestry section. “It’s an agriculture fair, and (forestry) goes along with it.”
For Olson, who heads up the organization of the displays each year and sends out requests for volunteers, the ebb and flow of interested fairgoers throughout the day, as well as the reward of seeing community enjoy the hard work and talent of Addison County’s forestry workers, makes the event worth it every time.
“It’s a lot of work at the beginning,” he admits, “but once it starts, it has a life of its own.”