Audience members divided into rival logging camps—the Mill Creek camp versus the Mackinaw City camp—cheer wildly as lumberjacks scale cedar poles, race across floating logs and send wood chips flying. In the center of it all is Dan McDonough, hyping up the crowd and sharing the history of Michigan’s logging industry.
“People did this for a living, and lumbering was a dangerous job,” Dan says. “There was a good chance on a river drive you could be killed. If you made one slip and fell in the water, you were going to get crushed or drown … All of the events we do evolved from skills lumberjacks had to master to survive.”
Dan started Jack Pine Lumberjack Shows in 2008 after a career of building log cabins and competing in shows across the world, from Australia to Alaska. In his hometown of Escanaba, log rolling was like playing baseball. Growing up, Dan and his friends would roll in Little Bay de Noc, and were looked up to by their peers in the city’s youth program. “When they got good down at the city program, they’d come roll with us,” Dan says with a hint of pride. He started competing at age 11.
Dan, now 61, teaches about a dozen local kids in Mackinaw City each summer, and Jack Pine audience members are welcome to join. “Some families come up every year,” he says. “Their kids roll a couple of times while they’re camping; it’s a part of their vacation.”
The Jack Pine Lumberjack Shows are a family tradition, too. Some people have returned year after year for more than a decade. They know the lumberjacks by name and have a fierce loyalty to their logging camp. The shows draw a crowd, with more than 500 people filling the grandstand some days. The cheering can be heard three miles away, Dan says (his neighbors don’t mind). “I always tell people if you don’t cheer you have to log roll, and in 14 years we’ve never had anyone roll,” he says with a laugh. “It’s just good family fun.”
After each show, everyone is invited down to talk with the lumberjacks, ask questions, get an autograph and take home a wood chip as a souvenir. “People will come up and say, ‘Oh, my grandfather worked at a logging camp’ or ‘My grandma cooked at one.’ It’s woven into people’s lives. They’ve heard those stories before,” Dan says. “Keeping the sport alive is important to me; it’s a part of Americana.”
Explore more photos from the Jack Pine Lumberjack Show below: