Timbersports highlight 12th Johnny Appleseed Festival

Holly Waterfield

The annual Johnny Appleseed Festival celebrated their 12th year this past weekend in Sheffield, Pennsylvania. There are many aspects of the festival that draw people domestically and internationally to make the trip into the valley known as the Heart of the Allegheny National Forest. But none bigger than the three-day timber sports competition.

For Russell’s own, Nathan Waterfield, who both competes in and organizes the event, the transformation of the festival’s biggest attraction has been a gratifying ride.

“The festival itself has grown tremendously to the point of, you know, where are people going to park,” said Nathan. “It’s a bad problem to have, but at the same time, it’s a good problem, because it means we’re getting a ton of people. We have venders here that have come from the start and have been here all the way through. Stihl actually came with a product display this year, which is new. They increased their sponsorship for the event which is really awesome. I’m seeing a lot of growth.”

According to Johnny Appleseed Festival committee member, Kristi Kulka, the attendance of the festival will be a record year, with numbers estimated to fall between 10 and 15 thousand for the weekend.

“This event has grown from just being competitors from New York and Pennsylvania competing in the first two years, and it just kind of exploded within three or four,” Nate said. “Holly (Waterfield) and I have found this new format and it’s working out really well for competitors, vendors, our wood crew and everything.”

Fellow competitor, and wife of Nathan, Holly Waterfield, shared her husband’s enthusiasm about the growth of the Johnny Appleseed Festival.

“It has changed a lot over the years,” said Holly. “The first year we did not have a stage. In the years since then, we’ve had a tremendous following from the competitors. They really love this show because they felt like they are really able to focus. The wood crew especially, takes a lot of the onus off of them having to help clean up between events. The community as a whole just comes together. The crowd is great. The committee behind the festival really takes care of the competitors. Now it is one of the elite shows in the country.”

One of the increasingly popular features of the show has been the lumberjills division.

Holly explained that the lumberjills have always been a part of the event, but the first few years were relatively small, with around 12 competitors. However, the participation on the women’s side has grown exponentially.

“Last year was one of our largest women’s fields,” said Holly. “This year is a little smaller because of some conflicts with some other shows. But the women’s field has changed incredibly in the last 12 years. This past year was the first year that there was a women’s national championship for the Stihl Timber Sports. So that women’s division is really coming along. We have a similar number of competitors but the level of competition has increased tremendously just in the last five years.”

For the Waterfields, being involved since the beginning of the Johnny Appleseed Festival has been gratifying for many reasons, however the biggest in recent years, may just be their own two children.

“I feel like we’re more of a little community with a lot of the competitors,” said Holly. “My older daughter (5) really enjoys chopping herself. She likes to hang around it. She knows a lot of the competitors. Knowing she’s watching us, as we train and compete, I hope that she comes away with a sense of accomplishment as she sees us doing the same thing.”

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