Jerry Harmon, president of Juneau Gold Rush Days and a miner for more than 40 years, shows some of the nearly 500,000 pounds in heavy equipment being brought to Savikko Field for this weekend’s events. The event has attracted an estimated 10,000 people at its peak, but was cancelled the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Jerry Harmon, president of Juneau Gold Rush Days and a miner for more than 40 years, shows some of the nearly 500,000 pounds in heavy equipment being brought to Savikko Field for this weekend’s events. The event has attracted an estimated 10,000 people at its peak, but was cancelled the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Gold Rush Days returns with strong prospects

Weekend mining and logging event at Savikko Field celebrates 30th year after missing past two years

When it comes to Juneau Gold Rush Days, Alea Oien is totally into mucking around.

The former cartographer and underground worker at the Alaska-Juneau Mine is reportedly the most successful competitor in the two-day event that will mark its 30th year beginning at 8 a.m. Saturday at Savikko Park. The event celebrates the area’s long mining and logging history, and during its peak years has attracted more than 10,000 people to a variety of contests, vendors, fair foods, gold panning and children’s activities.

A highlight is the competitions in mining events such as jackleg drilling and spike driving, and logging events such as axe throwing, pole climbing and log rolling. Oien said this week she doesn’t know specifically how many events she’s won, but there’s no special training or strategy to explain her success.

“I don’t think any of us do any training other than what we do around our yards,” she said. “Most of us run chainsaws and stuff around our yards.”

That said, “I don’t think anybody throws an axe.”

But the competitions are such that a novice can sign up to test their skills and, for instance, learn the difference between mining’s hand mucking and logging’s hand bucking. Oien offers a glimpse of the dirty details for the mucking competition that she said she has never lost.

“The main reason I was good at that is I used to have a horse and I used to have to clean a stable,” she said. “There’s no real secret to it — just go as fast as you can and remember to breathe.”

One competition novices may want to be cautious about and practice for in advance is pole climbing, Oien said.

“There’s not really an easy way to rescue somebody from the top of a pole,” she said.

The person asserting Oien is the competition champ is Jerry Harmon, president of Juneau Gold Rush Days and a miner for more than 40 years. He’s been involved with the event since it was founded in 1990 as a relatively humble get-together featuring some drilling contests among a handful of competitors and what today would be a pittance of spectators.

“When we started this in 1990 we had 500 people for the first event,” he said.

Gabe Holst, foreground, a Coeur Alaska Inc. mining intern from Springfield, Missouri, tightens an anchor rope on a shelter tent at Savikko Field on Monday where vendors will be during Juneau Gold Rush Days. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Gabe Holst, foreground, a Coeur Alaska Inc. mining intern from Springfield, Missouri, tightens an anchor rope on a shelter tent at Savikko Field on Monday where vendors will be during Juneau Gold Rush Days. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Over the years the event — like the mining and logging industries — has seen big changes. Harmon said organizers are bringing in nearly half a million pounds of heavy equipment from area mines and other locations, and modern-day setup involves activities from repainting park shelters to installing water and electricity hookups to inflating a children’s bounce tent.

“It’s a lot of things people don’t realize,” he said.

This year’s opening ceremony is scheduled at 9 a.m. Saturday, although vendor booths will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Children’s events will be 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturday and 1-2 p.m. Sunday, gold panning and carnival will be 1-3 p.m. both days, a “music and brews” event is scheduled from 3-6 p.m. Saturday, and competitions are scheduled throughout both days.

Gold Rush Days started 32 years ago, but is celebrating its 30th year due to being canceled the past two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Harmon said there will be face masks and sanitizer available, but no mandates will be in place unless officially required.

A mix of old-time miners and fresh interns was helping Harmon set up on a rainy Monday for the weekend’s events. Among the newcomers was Derek Thompson, a Michigan Tech student interning this summer for Coeur Alaska Inc., who said he’s long been interested in mining and is intrigued by entering some of the competitions as an intrepid novice, even if “I don’t even know what jack legging is.”

“Spike driving is a good one for you to get into,” Harmon advised Thompson. Apparently the grizzled veteran finds the youth’s vigor impressive since “I’ll pay the entrance fee and we’ll split the money.”

Helping Thompson paint picnic tables beneath a shelter Monday was Kali Braning, a geological engineering student at the University of Utah who is also interning for Coeur Alaska. She said she took a less rock-solid path to spending a summer among Alaska’s modern miners,

“I never actually imagined myself working in a gold mine,” she said. That changed when she began her studies and applied for an internship far from home because “I just decided I wanted to try mining.”

Kali Braning, left, a University of Utah student, and Derek Thompson, a Michigan Tech student, paint picnic tables beneath a shelter at Savikko Field on Monday in preparation for Juneau Gold Rush Days. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Kali Braning, left, a University of Utah student, and Derek Thompson, a Michigan Tech student, paint picnic tables beneath a shelter at Savikko Field on Monday in preparation for Juneau Gold Rush Days. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

While Braning may be acquiring some skills that help with mining events this weekend, Harmon suggested she try the sporting life of a lumberjack.

“There’s always a logger that’ll let her get on the other end for a Jack-and-Jill,” he said.

While mining and logging have both experienced turbulent times in Southeast Alaska — and globally — during the past three decades, the enthusiasm the interns expressed about careers in those fields is still felt by Oien. She left her mining job after becoming a mother, but said she believes strongly such work and opinions about it have strong future prospects.

“I just have this feeling that people are more understanding these days that mining is really important for the products it produces and for giving people good paying jobs,” she said.

Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com.

Eddie Petries, foreground, a participant in Juneau Gold Rush Days since the 1990s, and Darren Hershman, a Coeur Alaska Inc. mining intern from Fairbanks, lower a set of bleacher seats at Savikko Field on Monday in preparation for the events that begin Saturday. Gold Rush Days is celebrating its 30th year after making its debut in 1990 and missing two years during the pandemic. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Eddie Petries, foreground, a participant in Juneau Gold Rush Days since the 1990s, and Darren Hershman, a Coeur Alaska Inc. mining intern from Fairbanks, lower a set of bleacher seats at Savikko Field on Monday in preparation for the events that begin Saturday. Gold Rush Days is celebrating its 30th year after making its debut in 1990 and missing two years during the pandemic. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

More in News

A Princess Cruise Line ship is docked in Juneau on Aug. 25, 2021. (Michael Lockett / Juneau Empire File)
Ships in Port for the week of Sept. 25

Here’s what to expect this week.

Police vehicles gather Wednesday evening near Kaxdigoowu Héen Dei, also known as ]]Brotherhood Bridge Trail, while investigating a homicide. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
Police: Woman was walking dogs when she was killed

JPD said officers are working “around the clock” on the criminal investigation.

In this photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, a Coast Guard Cutter Kimball crew-member observes a foreign vessel in the Bering Sea, Monday, Sept. 19, 2022. The U.S. Coast Guard cutter on routine patrol in the Bering Sea came across the guided missile cruiser from the People's Republic of China, officials said Monday, Sept. 26.  (U.S. Coast Guard District 17 via AP)
Patrol spots Chinese, Russian naval ships off Alaska island

This wasn’t the first time Chinese naval ships have sailed near Alaska waters.

An Alaska judge has ruled that a state lawmaker affiliated with the Oath Keepers, Rep. David Eastman, shown in this February 2022 photo, may stay on the general election ballot in November even though he's likely ineligible to hold public office  (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Judge keeps Oath Keepers lawmaker on November ballot

Judge ordered delaying certifying the result of the race until a trial scheduled for December.

Water rushes down Front Street, just a half block from the Bering Sea, in Nome, Alaska, on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022 as the remnants of Typhoon Merbok moved into the region. It was a massive storm system — big enough to cover the mainland U.S. from the Pacific Ocean to Nebraska and from Canada to Texas. It influenced weather systems as far away as California, where a rare late-summer storm dropped rain on the northern part of the state, offering a measure of relief to wildfire crews but also complicating fire suppression efforts because of mud and loosened earth. (AP Photo / Peggy Fagerstrom)
Repair work begins in some Alaska towns slammed by storm

ANCHORAGE — There’s been significant damage to some roads and homes in… Continue reading

j
Sniffen indicted on sexual abuse counts

Sniffen will be arraigned Monday.

In this undated file photo the Trans-Alaska pipeline and pump station north of Fairbanks, Alaska is shown. (AP Photo / Al Grillo)
Oil price drop endangers plan to fund Alaska schools a year early

If oil prices fall, amount is automatically reduced to an amount the state can afford. At

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Juneau Police Department announces technology and reporting updates

Emergeny services and direct reporting will not be interrupted

The hoverfly can perceive electrical fields around the edges of the petals, the big white stigma, and the stamens. (Courtesy Photo / Bob Armstrong)
On the Trails: Electric flowers and platform plants

You cannot see it, it’s electric.

Most Read