Campers learn historic art of logrolling

Rolling along

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4-H campers Estella Stevens, left, and Brady Boll, both 9, try logrolling Wednesday at the Darrell E. Fenner 4-H Camp at Loon Lake in Bigfork while camp counselor Cassidy Norick, 14, far left and camper Sarai Lawson, 13, far right, hold onto the ends for stability. (Hilary Matheson/Daily Inter Lake)

Flathead and Lincoln county 4-H campers are participating in a more than century-old sport — logrolling.

On Thursday, campers tested out one of the camp’s brand new Key Logs at Darrell E. Fenner 4-H Camp at Loon Lake. Two Key Logs from the Minnesota-based company Key Log Rolling were purchased through a $3,870 Plum Creek Foundation grant.

Instead of heavy timber, the 11-foot, 8-inch-long log is made of durable, high-density plastic that is filled with water.

“It weighs about 65 pounds when they’re empty so in the wintertime we can take it to an indoor pool and do training on it,” Flathead County 4-H Youth Development Agent Tammy Walker said.

On the ends and the center of the log are removable paddles, or baffles, which serve a “training wheels” for beginners by reducing spin. Despite increased resistance the log is tough to stay on with bare feet.

“It’s kind of exciting because it’s the perception of risk when there’s really low risk to it,” Walker said. “If you lose your balance you’re falling away from it.”

Nine-year-old Patience Bain got on the log for a solo run. As she stood to get her balance, camp counselor Cassidy Norick, 14, held the end of the log.

“Look at me. It will help you balance,” Norick said. “Keep focused on me.”

Bain swayed, then gained her balance and began slowly marching.

“You got it,” Norick said.

When Bain picked up the pace she leaned slightly forward, losing her balance and falling into the water.

Sisters 11-year-old Alliyah Stevens and 9-year-old Estella Stevens took a turn. They could either work as a team or try and knock each other off by speed or reversing their direction, both difficult feats.

On this occasion, the sisters worked as a team, trying to maintain the same speed and staying on as long as they could.

The sisters mounted the log.

“Ready,” Alliyah said to her sister.

“OK,” Estella said.

Facing each other they rose from a crouched position and started rolling. They gained some momentum before falling into the water.

“When you go quicker you fall off faster,” Estella said, noting that the key is balance.

Walker heard about the Key Log product at an American Camp Association Conference.

“I thought with the logging history we have in Montana, what a great addition to the 4-H camp, so I just reached out to Plum Creek and thought it would be a good fit for them to support as well,” Walker said.

“We’ll incorporate logrolling into our curriculum and do the history of logrolling and logging in our community,” she said.

Logrolling was originally a means of transporting logs from forest to sawmill on the river. A lumberjack’s responsibility was to drive the logs and prevent jams using just a pole and spiked shoes. Eventually, lumberjacks put their agility to the test by competing against each other. The first unofficial world logrolling championship was held in 1898, according to Key Log Rolling.

Besides logrolling and swimming, campers have kept busy during the week-long camp with archery, arts and crafts, dance lessons, fishing, canoeing and plant identification, among other activities. The camps are held throughout the summer for children ages 8 to 12 led by counselors who are also 4-H members ages 13 through 19.

“The camp is really a leadership responsibility. Counselors apply, interview, write curriculum, give ideas how to run the camp,” Walker said. “And the campers have so much fun.”

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or by email at

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