The Libby City Council Monday night granted conditional approval for the closure of Mineral Avenue for the inaugural Kootenai Country Montana Chainsaw Carving Championship.
Mineral Avenue will be closed from the north side of Third Street through the turn-around near the BNSF property from the evening of Sept. 14 through the afternoon of Sept. 17, 2017. A lane will be left open to allow access to and from the train station. The approval was conditioned upon the impacted businesses being notified of the event and street closure.
Kootenai Country Montana managing director Bob Henline appeared before the council Monday evening to make the request. He sat down with The Montanian last week to discuss the closure request and the event.
“Everything we do at Kootenai Country Montana is about promoting Libby, Troy, and the rest of Lincoln County,” he said. “This event is another example of that. We want the world to see just how beautiful this place is, and bringing people here for an international carving championship is one way we can help do that.”
The event will feature 15 chainsaw carvers from all over the United States, plus two British and one Japanese artist, carving in front of the public on the closed section of Mineral Avenue for three days of intense competition.
Henline said the idea came from local carver Ron Adamson, who has been contemplating this kind of an event for several years.
“Ron came to Paul Bunn earlier this year with the idea,” he said. “Paul recognized what a perfect fit something like this is for Libby, a community built from the culture and heritage of timber, so we started working on it right away. Ron hooked us up with long-time carver and contest organizer Steve Backus and then signed up to compete.”
The decision to hold the competition on Mineral Avenue was made, Henline said, to create a community festival feel and to help drive foot traffic to the downtown business area.
“Look at what Ignite the Nites does for this community,” he said. “Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people come to Libby to see the show. They walk up and down Mineral Avenue and that helps local businesses. They have a good time and they share that on their social media and with their friends and families at home, and that’s good for the entire community. If we’re lucky, maybe this thing can eventually grow into something of that magnitude, but even a small event can help bring people here, and every little bit helps.”
The carvers will each create one competition piece from a large log, as well as three quick-carve pieces during one-hour breaks from the main competition. All of the carvings will be sold at on-site auctions after the carving ends on Friday and Sunday. A special reception is being planned for Saturday night, at which guests will have the opportunity to meet the artists and bid on special pieces they are bringing just for the reception event.
The start-up funding for the event has been fronted by Bunn, owner of Kootenai Country Montana, the Venture Inn, and the Country Inn in Libby, but sponsors are currently being recruited to help off-set some of those costs.
“Paul has put a great deal of money into this event, and committed even more,” Henline said. “He really wants to do something good for this community, and he’s showing it. We’re starting to look for sponsors to help us with some of these expenses, both in terms of cash and in-kind contributions. Anyone interested in helping out or being part of this event in any way can call or email me any time, we’re always open to help and suggestions.”
In order to meet the city council’s conditions, Kootenai Country Montana delivered letters last week to the businesses impacted by the street closure. In the letter, Henline detailed the closure area and times, and explained the nature and purpose of the event. He also invited any business owners with questions or concerns to contact him.
“I told the council I didn’t anticipate any opposition from the local business community,” Henline said. “I can’t imagine how anyone would object to more foot traffic on Mineral Avenue or the possibility of more customers or potential customers walking into their businesses. I’m more than happy to sit down with any of the impacted businesses and talk about their concerns. If there are issues, we’ll work together to solve them. Like I said before, this is an event to benefit all of Libby and we want to make sure it’s the best event we can possibly make.”