Whittle the Wood carvers at work

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The annual Whittle the Wood competition is under way at City Park, and by Saturday night, 10 trees will be transformed into elegant carvings.

But the park already is bursting with carvings from the past five competitions, so the new carvings probably won't have a permanent home in the park. From the beginning, city officials hoped to spread the carvings across town.

Dave Pike, the parks and recreation director for the city of Craig, explained that the city loses money on the event, but it spurs tourism and interest in the area, which makes up for it.

The city covers the carvers' room and board during the competition and also gives them each $150 for traveling expenses, plus any prize money they win.

In turn, the carvers donate their works to the city, which Pike estimates will sell for $1,000 to $1,500 each.

"As this progresses, we can't fit all the carvings in the park, so we have moved some around town," Pike said.

One has been placed at the Craig Chamber of Commerce, one at City Hall, and three at the pool. The courthouse and golf course may be future sites of carvings.

The city hopes the event and the long-term placement of the carvings will boost tourism and economic development, Pike said.

"We are filling up hotels and restaurants," he said. Pike estimates 4,000 people will tour the park Saturday.

In last year's People Choice award for the carvings, 25 percent of the people who voted came from out of town. Pike said it's an exciting indicator of how many people the event attracts to Craig.

"Hopefully we'll be the carving capitol of the universe," he said with a big smile.

Another possible use for the carvings is to auction them off to raise money to hold the event, Pike said.

Delbert Trujillo was at the competition opening morning. The Craig resident and former participant said he loves the event and thinks the effect on the community is priceless. His restaurant, the O.P., is one of many sponsors that provide meals for the carvers.

"In 10 years, imagine how many (carvings) there will be," he said. "You'll find them all over town."

Ironically, the trees taken out of the park to be displayed across town probably weren't from the park to begin with.

Whittle the Wood began five years ago as a creative solution to dead trees in the park. After those were carved in the first two years, the city couldn't chop down living trees, so they began importing trees into the park.

Ken Welch with Custom Tree Service has an integral function to the event. When he is removing dead trees, if he finds one he thinks would work well for a carving, he saves it and donates it to the event.

City employees then dig huge holes and plant the trees in the park a few weeks before the competition. "The trees look like they have been there forever," Pike said.

And by the end of the competition, they will look like masterpieces.

Colbert Levy can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at clevy@craigdailypress.com.

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