Festival of Wood to celebrate 10 years
Two day event offers knowledge of forestry
Photos credit, Grey Towers Heritage Association A portable sawmill demonstrates how logs become lumber.
Craftsmen demonstrate wood working skills all weekend long.
Beautiful and unique wood crafts are offered for sale at the festival.
The PA Woodmobile is a popular attraction at the Festival.
Wood crafts on display.
The Festival of Wood
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 2 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 3.
WHERE: Grey Towers National Historic, 151 Grey Towers, Milford, Pa.
HOW MUCH: Free.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: http://greytowers.org/wood/index.html
MILFORD — As it reaches its 10th anniversary, the annual Festival of Wood celebration at Grey Towers has become an expected and highly anticipated component of summers in Milford.
The festival, on Aug. 2 and 3, utilizes everything from stilt walkers to animal exhibits, live music to a wood mobile and chainsaw demonstrations to Smokey the Bear, in order to educate the community on forestry and conservation, the life’s work of former owner Gifford Pinchot.
The idea for a festival began a decade ago when the Grey Towers Heritage Association, which maintains the estate, began to notice that visitors lacked a general knowledge of forestry, Lori McKean said.
“Nobody really likes to see a tree get cut down but everyone loves using wood,” McKean, who serves as the Visitor Services Information Specialist at Grey Towers, said. “So we thought, let’s figure out a fun way to educate people about forestry, which is basically being able to use trees or wood while you still have trees for the future.”
The idea grew to become the Festival of Wood, a free two day event that occurs the first weekend of every August. During the festival, visitors are invited to browse the multiple wood demonstrations, informational exhibits, arts and crafts, food and music for free, as well as tour all three stories of the historic Grey Towers mansion for a $5 fee.
In its 10 year history, the festival has grown tremendously in terms of scope, activities and visitors in order to become the event it is today, McKean said.
Finding the craftsmen
This year has reached the most participating craftsmen, with 25 people demonstrating and selling their woodcrafts in comparison to the 13 that participated in the festival’s first year, McKean said.
The craftsmen are found by the Pocono Arts Council, which maintains a large network that uses word of mouth to gain new participants every year, Executive Director Laura Goss said.
The search for craftsmen begins about six months prior to the festival, with applications made available in November or December and accepted until there is a full show, she said.
Due to the range of what visitors are interested in, it’s important to have a variety of both in crafts and price range, Goss said. For that reason, there will be craftsmen offering furniture, Christmas ornaments, sculptures, bird houses, Native American-inspired utensils and more.
New crafts this year include bowls carved from storm damaged trees, furniture made by a fourth generation rocking chair maker and acrylic paintings designed on wood, she said.
Most of the craftsmen do custom work, and are very willing to speak with and answer any questions from the audience, she said.
“They give a really good idea of what it takes to make the items that are on display,” Goss said. “The whole purpose of the festival is to show the sustainability of wood… It’s okay to chop down a tree as long as you can do something with it, so that’s what I try to highlight.”
One of these craftsmen is Brad Sears, a full time studio wood turner who said he has been involved with festival for about four or five years.
During the festival, Sears displays his many handcraft items such as pepper mills, salt and pepper sets and custom items such as razor handles and shaving brushes.
About 10 to 15 percent of his business is custom work, with requests ranging from bowls to Indian clubs used as exercise weights, he said.
Invited by Goss after she viewed his crafts, Sears said he decided to participate in the festival out of curiosity and a respect for Pinchot, whose conservationist work resonated with him.
One aspect of the festival that brings him back every year is the enjoyment he finds in meeting and speaking with people, particularly those who do not have much prior knowledge of woodworking and handmade work, as well as the immense satisfaction he finds in crafting these pieces, he said.
Most of the people he finds himself speaking with the festival are either families or those who appreciate fine craftsmanship, which are the individuals who his work is targeted to, he said.
“You can go to amazon.com and buy virtually everything I sell. At least it will have the same titles,” Sears said. “It will not have the same quality… It will most likely not last as long because my work is handcrafted to last for generations.”
It is these distinguishing characteristics of his work, such as the toxin-free finishes and the 200-year-old French polishing process he utilizes, that Sears said he finds himself discussing with audience members.
“In today’s society or today’s culture, we are very much removed from our environment,” he said. “The festival is an attempt to bring us back to our natural and indeed our cultural heritage.”
Preparing for the festival
Although it only lasts two days, months of preparation goes into the weekend.
Beginning in September, the Festival of Wood committee begins debriefing on the past month’s festival and discussing what did and did not work, McKean said.
Then a team of Grey Towers staff as well as some of their partners meet monthly to brainstorm new ideas and respond to requests from groups, musicians and food vendors who want to become involved.
It takes almost the entire year to respond to and organize every participant and then plan the weekend’s schedule and begin advertising for it, she said.
While the goal is to obtain new visitors every year, many of the requests are from return visitors, Melody Remillard, the Chairman for the committee, said.
This year will see two attractions returning from previous years — one of them being stilt walkers from a theatrical group who walk the grounds dressed as forest animals in the line of the Broadway musical “The Lion King,” she said.
Another returning favorite will be a wood mobile, which is a large vehicle filled with self contained exhibits on wood, the forest and trees that visitors can enter and view, Remillard said.
Due to having 10 years under their belts, the committee finds preparation for the weekend as well as the festival itself relatively challenge-free, she said.
In their decade of experience, they have found solutions to what could have been problems, such as lack of parking or bad weather — a free shuttle takes visitors from the various parking areas to the grounds, and all demonstrations and exhibits are held under tents.
Even after 10 years, the committee believes there is still much growing room for the festival, and is already planning for the future.
“Oh boy, I have lots of great ideas,” McKean said, laughing.
She said she hopes future festivals can be expanded beyond two days, involve even more crafts and reach more visitors.
During the festival
Aside from viewing the crafts, visitors can also enjoy food and live entertainment.
Little Bear, a popular Native American flutist and drummer, will return on Saturday, and the following day a folk americana group called "Little Sparrow" will be performing on wooden instruments.
In between craftsmen will also be education exhibits, from groups such as the National Park Service, the Pike County Public Library and the Pocono Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, which will have a live animal exhibit.
The audience itself is as varied as the activities available.
The visitors include families looking for something to do, wood purists who want to learn about what is happening in the forest, conservationists and environmentalists who want to see the crafts and people who are simply interested in the architecture and artifacts of the mansion or the beauty of the gardens, McKean said.
She estimated that at least 50 percent of the audience is from the tristate area of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.
“The more people who come, the better,” McKean said. “It would be nice to be able to introduce Grey Towers to new audiences every year.”
With so many people coming through town for the festival and some even staying overnight to see what else Milford has to offer, McKean said she would like to think that the Festival of Wood is “a huge economic engine for the business community.”
Many of the visitors tell the Grey Towers staff how surprised they were to see how easy it was to travel to Milford, something the staff is confident helps bring them back to the area later, she said.
Honoring Pinchot’s legacy
Without the Pinchot family, who built and then donated Grey Towers to the US Forest Service — so that their historic integrity could be maintained and their conservation efforts could be spread to the public — the Festival of Wood would never have been possible.
Which is why one of the objectives of the Festival of Wood is for visitors to learn about Grey Towers, its former owner and the first Chief of US Forest Service Gifford Pinchot and all that he contributed to conservation in America, McKean said.
“By doing the activities and learning about all the different things on forestry and with wood, we hope to promote a stewardship ethic so people will leave thinking they can do something individually to work towards conservation in their community,” she said.
The Festival of Wood plays into the Pinchot legacy not only through its conservation and forestry educational efforts, but also by following the family’s legacy in welcoming the community to their home, McKean said.
Remillard said she believes Pinchot would “definitely approve” of the festival, which is very much keeping in with how he would have liked to see his estate being used.
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