Axes and logs were flying Thursday as more than 500 high school students converged on the SUNY Cobleskill campus for the NYS BOCES Conservation Competition.
Teens with an eye on forestry, agronomy and other environment-related careers have been practicing for weeks to vie for the best score in events such as the ax throw, crosscut sawing, tree-climbing and a variety of other challenges.
The annual challenge is held at various colleges throughout the state, said Matthew Hibbard, an instructor in SUNY Cobleskill’s Agriculture Engineering Technology Department.
Challenging the young students, he said, helps spark motivation and improve their skills.
“Having a contest like this give the students something to aim for,” Hibbard said.
The north side of the Cobleskill campus was filled with youths traveling to and from various events, rooting on their fellow students.
Some events were less physical, such as tree identification and scaling — determining the species and number of board feet in a log, a skill used by foresters to value products.
Others competed in a compass and pace challenge, testing their ability to gauge bearings, and a land judging event to evaluate soil conditions and the best use for land.
Other events tested students’ skills using tractors and other agricultural equipment, all applications they learn in their individual BOCES classes back home.
Despite their age, the high-schoolers displayed good skills, Agriculture Engineering Technology Department Chairman Doug Hammond said.
“They did pretty good,” he said at the end of the tractor events. “They’re trained in a vocation that’s going to keep them employed.”
Cole Lake, 17, of Spencer, was preparing for the crosscut event, which requires a two-person team to saw through a log and aim for the quickest time.
Lake said his family is in the logging business, but he considers his skills works in progress.
“I’m still not perfect at it yet,” Lake said, adding the event was a lesson in humility as well.
“It makes me think that I’ve got a lot more to learn,” he said.
Becca Briggs, 16, of Horseheads, was poring over a series of logs, detailing their length and width with a measuring tool designed specially for the purpose. She said she sees the event as a learning experience, since it requires practice. “I learn by practicing,” she said.
The events are all geared toward improving skills used in the field today, said Matt Rhoads, 20, one of several SUNY Cobleskill students who volunteered to work at the challenge, supervising individual events and recording times.
He cited the pulp toss as a lesson in efficiency. Competitors have to toss 4-foot sections of logs about 15 feet toward two posts in the ground.
Getting them between the posts, Rhoads said, simulates the process of stacking while harvesting forest products. Rhoads, a member of SUNY Cobleskill’s competing Woodsmen’s Club, said machinery can’t do all the work in the forestry industry — that’s why there’s a tree-climbing event. “Some trees are hundreds of feet tall,” he said.
Practice and competition at events like this, Hibbard said, is all aimed at helping students succeed in the future.