Timbersports keep Warren Wilson forestry program sharp

Fred McCormick

Caring for the 650 acres of forest that surround Warren Wilson College is a daunting task that requires hard work for students in the school’s forestry program.

And for most of the 14 students managing the vast forest on a daily basis,the work is half the fun.

Timbersports - sports that center around knowledge and physical skill related to forestry - came to Warren Wilson College in 2012, according to Shawn Swartz, forest manager and coach of the school’s team.

It was established as a club sport, allowing the Owls to compete in regional competitions. Meets consist of events including crosscut sawing, standing block chop and horizontal speed chop.

Swartz’ familiarity with timbersports stem from participating in them as a child.

“I had been talking up the idea of being able to have a team here for quite a few years,” said Swartz, who has been at the school since 2007. “But it really took a student to get really excited about the possibility of having the sport here and getting his peers excited about it.”

For a school where the most popular major is environmental studies, timbersports (also referred to as woodlands sports) have been a perfect fit.

“A lot of the events we go to have academic elements in the meet,” Swartz said. “There will be wood identification, tree identification, estimating diameters of trees, and things like that. Wildlife identification as well.”

Students like German-born Armin Weise, a senior environmental studies major with a concentration in forestry, see the timbersports program as an opportunity to supplement their education. Weise believes that the experience on the team will help him in forestry consulting, a field in which he would like to work after graduation.

“It has really exposed me to the culture of forestry,” Weise said. “Going to these timbersports events I’m able to go to other schools and experience that culture. That should help me connect better with the people I’ll work with in the future.”

Weise had never heard of timbersports before beginning classes at Warren Wilson, where he witnessed a demonstration by the team. But a busy work and course schedule kept him from joining.

It was back home in Germany that Weise found his motivation to start competing.

“This past summer I did an internship with a forester in Germany,” Weise said. “Part of that time I was working with forest workers, and one of them is a timbersports pro in Germany who has competed in the sport for many years.”

The stories of competition shared by his fellow forestry worker in Germany were intriguing enough to convince him to sign up for the team when he returned to school.

He is currently in competition with a teammate to decide who will represent the Owls in the regional championships in Pennsylvania next year.

Most collegiate club sports compete against schools that are members of the same conclave, the club equivalent of a conference.

But the Owls remain unaffiliated and fill their schedule with invitational events.

“Stihl (a maker of forestry equipment like chainsaws) has a collegiate series that they award national and regional championships,” Swartz said. “We do participate in those, and we’ve had a student go to back-to-back national championships.”