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The town of Priest River will be holding its Timber Days festival at the end of this week, continuing a ritual that has gone on in some form as long as anyone can remember. The annual event has grown out of the celebration that used to occur after the yearly log drive down the Priest River, when brave and spry “river pigs” cajoled logs down the foaming and rock-infested waterway to its confluence with the Pend Oreille River and the lumber mills there. Although the last drive was held over 50 years ago and most of the river pigs no longer walk this earth—and most of the mills are no longer with us either—the celebration remains as a commemoration of Priest River’s heritage as a timber town.

Priest River’s Future Celebrates its Past

The town of Priest River will be holding its Timber Days festival at the end of this week, continuing a ritual that has gone on in some form as long as anyone can remember. The annual event has grown out of the celebration that used to occur after the yearly log drive down the Priest River, when brave and spry “river pigs” cajoled logs down the foaming and rock-infested waterway to its confluence with the Pend Oreille River and the lumber mills there.

Although the last drive was held over 50 years ago and most of the river pigs no longer walk this earth—and most of the mills are no longer with us either—the celebration remains as a commemoration of Priest River’s heritage as a timber town.

In addition to the usual arts and crafts show, kids’ games, fun run, dancing, and food booths that characterize such celebrations everywhere, Timber Days will include an antique car show, lawnmower races, and, most appropriately, a loggersports competition. In this last, men and women will compete in a variety of events using saws, chainsaws, and axes to demonstrate who is the fastest at helping a log on its way to becoming lumber.

Despite the enthusiasm for its forest products heritage, Priest River continues to attempt to revive itself in other ways as the timber economy has declined, and a showpiece restoration has occurred with the Beardmore Block. The attractive building, with its terra-cotta details and massive timbers from another age, was built in 1922 by timber baron Charles Beardmore, and it was saved from the wrecking ball by his great-grandson with a prize-winning, LEED-certified redesign in 2007. This Thursday evening, on the eve of Timber Days, the building will host a showing of the work of nearby Sandpoint photographer Marie-Dominique Verdier, with hors d’oeuvres and wine.

The Beardmore still has not completely filled with tenants, but the wine bar Noni on the ground floor has proved a popular and comfortable spot, with soft sofas in which to recline while sipping wine and crunching “Nonichos”—a local version of nachos with Alfredo sauce. At the VitaLife Spa next door, people who have participated in the logging competitions may be assisted in their recovery with a yoga session or a massage, or they might rehydrate with one of the spa’s signature smoothies while learning about its cutting-edge restorative therapies.

It’s hard to imagine the river pigs celebrating with a biofeedback session or a flight of carefully selected white wines. But I suspect they would be willing to celebrate Priest River’s future as much as its past. And this weekend would be a good time to metaphorically join them.

About Cate Huisman

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