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Escalante Days festival brings crowds to Dolores

Hundreds of residents, out-of-state guests celebrate town’s late summer festival

A large crowd filled Flanders Park in Dolores on Saturday for one of the biggest days on the town’s calendar.

The 2017 Escalante Days festival was packed with friendly competition and family fun. In addition to hundreds of Montezuma County residents, many people came from other states to participate in the morning bike race, compete in the annual chain saw and arm-wrestling tournaments or just go for rides on the Galloping Goose train and shop at local vendors’ booths.

A brief downpour in the afternoon put a temporary stop to the arm-wrestling tournament, but it didn’t dampen the festival’s cheerful atmosphere.

After the bike race in the morning, the highlights of the day were the chain saw tournament and the arm-wrestling tournament. Dolores resident Debbie Valerio judged both, along with former resident Chris Marquez, who came all the way from Billings, Montana, to volunteer.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and I love every minute of it,” Valerio said. “This year, I feel that it went very, very well. I didn’t have as many contestants as I would have loved to have had, but every year it varies.”

She said more people signed up for the chain saw contest this year than in the past, but fewer competed for medals in arm-wrestling.

Several of those contestants had come a long way for the event. Michael Swigart, who won first place in both the middle- and heavyweight arm wrestling contests, said this was his first time visiting Dolores in seven years. He drove from Phoenix, Arizona, to attend a 10-year Dolores High School reunion, held at the same time as Escalante Days.

“I love seeing people I haven’t seen in a long time,” he said, as friends came up to congratulate him on the second win.

In the chain saw competition, the Ragland family dominated again in the traditional event, which drew 20 contestants. Competitors are timed on making three cuts.

In the light saw category, Bill Ragland won with a time of 9.28 seconds, Doug Ragland took second with 13.85 seconds, and Trevor Robinson was third-fastest at 14.06 seconds.

For the big saw category, Luke Ragland took first place with a time of 8.29 seconds, Doug Ragland took second at 8.93 seconds, and Bill Ragland made third place with a time of 8.97 seconds.

In the women’s category, Deb Akin took first with a time of 18.97 seconds, Kristine Richardson was second with 28.5 seconds, and Lori Higgens was third place with 50.65 seconds.

Dolores elders Bill Ragland, 85, and Vic Sundquist, 97, have decades of logging experience and drew cheers from a large crowd when they took their turns with the chain saws on the platform.

It’s a real honor and joy to compete in this event every year,” Bill Ragland said. “The secret to my speed is experience, technique and a sharp, sharp chain. I love the excitement and the crowd.”

Sundquist’s iron-grip handshake speaks to a lifetime of hard work, and he wielded his Stihl saw with expert precision. “It turned out good, and is nice to have family and friends all around,” he said. “I used to work in the mills here, so it is special that this event continues in Dolores.”

His great-granddaughter Kristine Richardson drove west from Pueblo to attend Escalante Days and participate in the chain saw competition.

“We’re making it a family tradition,” she said.

Throughout the day, several stores near Flanders Park, such as Red Tail Creations and West Fork Gallery, displayed their merchandise outside and held special sales. Local organizations like Dolores Fire and Rescue used the occasion to raise money by selling T-shirts and other memorabilia. Several Montezuma County Sheriff’s deputies also made an appearance on their new mounted patrol horses. Deputy Donnie Brown said it was their first “official duty day,” and the horses had been doing very well.