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Ray Higgins, with the Minnesota Timber Producers Association, speaks at a press conference Tuesday to announce the 2014 North Star Expo will be hosted in Bemidji at the Sanford Center. The two-day expo will be held in mid-September with over 100 logging vendors. Also participating in the announcement in the background from left are David Chura, Kit Hasbargen, Ed Grundy, Mike Lunemann and Joan Pomp. (Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer)

Logging expo returns to Bemidji

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BEMIDJI -- The state's largest logging equipment show is returning to Bemidji.

"What's better than coming to the home of Paul Bunyan," said Ray Higgins, director of operations for the Minnesota Timber Producers Association.

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Higgins, joined by six others, appeared Tuesday morning outside of the Sanford Center as he announced that the 61st annual North Star Expo will be held at the arena Sept. 12-13, bringing the show back to Bemidji for the first time since 2008.

"For the first time it will be here at the Sanford Center, utilizing the arena floor, the arena concourse, and of course the parking lot areas here at the facility," Higgins said, adding that the available space and facility allows vendors to bring in more of their products than in past years. "We feel vendors and attendees will love it here. The feedback we've already received has been terrific and folks are looking forward to being here."

The announcement came in tandem with a two-day education conference at the events center, at which loggers, foresters, vendors and others assembled for continuing education on topics such as forest management guidelines, log truck load securement, first aid and CPR, invasive species and more.

"We have over 200 loggers here that are committed to safe, professional operations that are going through their continuing education training," said Dave Chura, executive director of the Minnesota Logger Education Program.

The North Star Expo draws about 100 vendors and about 2,000 event-goers, who peruse displays from vendors with large equipment like chippers and skidders and other goods such as truck parts, fuel and lubricants, financial services, and more.

Because of insurance, they don't do large-scale demonstrations, but they will show off what some of the smaller equipment can do.

"We do have sawmill alley," said Joan Pomp, chairwoman of the MTPA's Expo committee. "They have firewood splitters, portable sawmills, that do operate."

The event, which is free, also features events such as the Loader and Master Loader contests.

"A big log loader, if you've ever been on a logging job, you've got to get the logs from the forest floor onto the truck," Higgins said. "So we bring a loader that does that job here and they move not trees around but some materials around on a checkerboard."

The winner for the past several years has been Matt Lundberg of Solway.

Other competitions include the Biggest Cookie and Guess the Weight. There are childrens' activities too, including a mini-loader and coloring contest.

The Expo was held in Bemidji, in 2007 and 2008, but that was at the Beltrami County Fairgrounds. Most recently, it's been at the Itasca County Fairgrounds in Grand Rapids.

"We're going to have it in the forested areas of the state," Higgins said of the event. "Grand Rapids has had our event for the last five years. They've been a great host and we'll be back there someday because Grand Rapids is similar, (with) a lot of infrastructure for our industry, a lot of logging companies. It's central to the forested areas of of the state, but so is Bemidji."

Higgins noted that Minnesota's forest products industry is the state's fifth-largest manufacturing industry, employing 30,000 people and contributing $9 billion to the state's economy.

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