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Rich Hallett, left, Don Quigley and Matt Chagnon, right (pictured with fiancee Rose Twardus), produce the number-two-rated show on ESPN. Photo by George Barker.

Logging On

It's 102 degrees at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo., and the humidity is stifling. Matt Chagnon '86, '88G has been up since 5 a.m. and has been standing at the timers' table in the direct sun for hours. Just a few feet away, two men are getting ready for a chopping race that will take less than 20 seconds. One man calmly grazes the razor-sharp blade of his axe with his thumb and gingerly adjusts his foothold. The other man, an Australian who towers over everyone on stage, paws the ground with his foot and growls menacingly at his log.

It is the qualifiers for the Stihl Timbersports Series on ESPN, and there is noise, sweat and tension everywhere. At the end of the day, one of the competitors will go home with thousands of dollars, and a dozen men will have earned the chance to compete for a new Dodge truck at the finals.

Don Quigley '76, '78G is behind the stage, his eyes riveted on the blocks of wood, which will be destroyed in a matter of seconds. He has been moving wood all morning, and his face is red and dripping. As soon as the last cut is made on one of the competition blocks, Quigley and two other men roll a new block onto the stage and lock it into a stanchion for the next race.

As the competitors finish, Rich Hallett '91G, '96G checks the blocks to make sure they are cut through, then runs across the stage to watch a videotape of the heat at the timers' booth. The competitor with the winning chop, 14 seconds, jumped the gun, and before he disqualifies him, Rich wants to watch the tape to be sure. He runs the tape three times, rubs his eyes and slumps against a chair, then walks to the competitors' tent to bring the bad news.

Chopping, sawing, log rolling, pole climbing--each event demonstrates actual skills used in the forests by loggers well into the last century, when trees were harvested by hand. Today, the loggers and horses have been replaced by machines, power saws and trucks, but logging sports keep these skills alive.

Chagnon, Quigley and Hallett all compete in logging sports and have been producing the Timbersports Series for eight years. What started as a hobby has turned into a small corporation, Granite State Lumberjack Shows Inc., with dozens of employees and a contract to produce the entire series.

This year's qualifiers will be held in Bar Harbor, Maine, and at Silver Dollar City, with the finals in Ketchikan, Alaska. Granite State will also produce the European Timbersports competition at Stihl's worldwide headquarters in Munich, Germany, in September.

Chagnon and Quigley, both professors at the Thompson School, and Hallett, a research ecologist for the U.S. Forest Service and an adjunct faculty member at UNH, are too absorbed in the work to dwell on the fact that they are featured on a highly rated television program that is broadcast all over the world. Chagnon, in his dry New Hampshire accent, jokes, "I'm not one of those temperamental stars. I don't have a personal assistant or a trailer. Just give me a donut, and I'm happy."

--Morgan Dudley

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