Capturing a crowd at Bucksport Festival of the Forest

Jim Robbins Sr. gathers a crowd at the Bucksport Festival of the Forest.
Jim Robbins Sr. had their attention from the moment he asked, “How old do you think this tree was?”
Kids at the Festival try to identify MFPC's tree samples.
Kids at the Festival try to identify MFPC’s tree samples.

All Jimmy Robbins needed was a slice of a stump to insure he had a steady line of people to talk to about Maine’s forests products at Bucksport’s first  “Festival of the Forest.” Robbins had their attention from the moment he asked, “How old do you think this tree was?”

An estimated 3,000 people attended July 25-26, according to Leslie Wombacher, executive director of the Bucksport Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the event.

“Overall, I think it went well,” she said. “I wish we’d had more educational information about Maine’s forest products industry available because people wanted to know more.”

Bill Cohen of Verso Paper also was pleased with the response to first Festival of the Forest. “We did have about 250 go through the tour and the response has been extremely positive, including nice notes from several individuals thanking us.” Cohen said. “We would consider doing it again.”

Robbins agreed. “First let me say that I think it is great that a town such as Bucksport wants to put on an annual Forest Festival,” he said. “I think it was a great chance to tell our industry’s story.  We were there with our booth not to sell anything because we don’t sell direct to the public.  However it gave us a great opportunity to show some of our products and tell people where they could purchase them.  More importantly, it gave us a chance to talk to many,many people from all over about our industry.

“I have to say that I was disappointed that more companies from the forest industry didn’t exhibit.  I think they missed a great opportunity,” Robbins said. “We plan on being there again next year as well.  I worry that if more of our companies don’t show up that they may give up on the Forestry Festival theme.  Bucksport has given us a wonderful opportunity to tell the forest industry’s story and we should jump through that door with both feet!

Robbins certainly did his part to educate the public. When most passersby were stumped — no pun intended — about the age of the tree displayed,  he supplied a clue. “This tree was growing for four years before Abraham Lincoln was president,” he said. Of course, then they had to think about who was president before Lincoln. Again, Jimmy was ready. “Franklin Pierce,” he said.

Terry Walters, MFPC board member, at our booth.
Terry Walters, MFPC board member, at our booth.

By then, no matter little interest they might have had previously in Maine’s forest products industry, they were hooked. They listened, looked and learned not only about the tree stump, which, by the way was 158 years old, but asked questions about the Robbins Lumber products on display and a whole lot more.

Robbin’s ability to capture a crowd will not surprise anyone who has seen him  in action at the annual meeting auction or testifying before a legislative committee, but it was quite impressive when there 87 other booths vying for attention. His charisma also benefited the other organizations with forest-related booths in the area, including MFPC, the Maine Forest Service, SWOAM and St. Albans Cedar Works.

Nor did it hurt attendance that all the booths were located along a walkway with a great view of Penobscot Bay, Fort Knox and the Penobscot Narrows Bridge. Of course, there was quite a breeze off the water, which threatened to blow the Robbins lumber booth into the MFPC booth. But with tent stakes and packing tape, everything stayed in it’s proper place.

At the MFPC booth, Terry Walters, board member, and Roberta Scruggs, communications director,  attracted interest from young and old with our “Name that tree” display — a collection of tree samples. People had fun trying to identify the various kinds of wood, although only two people over the course of the festival correctly identified the Hop hornbeam, which Walters said also is called ironwood. And a number of people wondered why we didn’t have a poplar sample, a question Walters and Scruggs couldn’t answer.

Andy Shultz at MFS booth.
Andy Shultz at MFS booth.

Walters enjoyed the opportunity to tell people about the forest industry and also took home something valuable for his efforts — a Toll House pie that his wife, Cathy, bought for him at another booth.

At the MFS booth, said Andy Shultz, MFS Landowner Outreach Forester, there was no question what people wanted to talk about most. By far ‘bugs’ — invasive insects — was the hot topic,” Shultz said. “This is partly because the bug displays were prominent on our table, and also because everybody loves to hate bugs. There were also some questions about District Forester coverage in the area, based on looking at the map we also had out on the counter top.”

“Overall I think it was a great opportunity to get out in front of people, both tourists AND in-state vacationers; a significant amount of local folks were there, too,” Shultz said.

Another hit at the festival was Woody — a walking tree! — making his debut as the mascot of the Bucksport Bay Festival of the Forest. The intricate costume was funded by The First, a bank  with 16 branch offices from Wiscassett to Calais. Woody was portrayed by two different people, Fort Knox Executive Director Leon Seymour, who was Woody during the parade and Jeremy Daigle of The First, who was a big hit as he visited the booths along the walkway after the parade. Play the video below to hear Woody’s positive (but extremely short) message about Maine’s forests


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