Birch Bay festival rings in 37th year

Discover-BBay-Days_ArchiveBy Stefanie Donahue

Birch Bay Beach Park will be packed full of summertime activities and crab-themed competitions at the 37th annual Discover Birch Bay Days and Crab Fest Friday through Sunday, August 26–28.

The three-day event features a mix of new and old activities for all ages and interests.

“We are going to have just an absolute blast,” said organizer and Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce vice president Billy Brown.

The crab derby, crab-themed parade and Discovery Days dash are on the list of returning events. New on the docket is the kids Olympics, in lieu of the ducky derby, and the extreme chainsaw sculpture show and competition.

Organizers expect about 10 chainsaw sculptors from around the West Coast to compete in the contest. Each participant will receive a 5’X4’ round of wood to carve a nautically-themed art piece.

“It’s amazing what they do,” Brown said.

The artwork will be sold at auction on Sunday, but not before well-known chainsaw sculptor Nyal Thomas crafts a piece of his own. The 72-year-old plans to kick off the Sunday auction by carving a piece of ice into something spectacular, chainsaw in hand.

Thomas took charge of gathering the crew of artists for Discover Birch Bay Days and Crab Fest this year – and it’s not his first competition. Throughout his professional career in wood carving, he’s facilitated nearly 30 shows, participated in 87 competitions and won 81 awards.

He started his carving career 36 years ago. However, his experience and passion for the craft began at an even earlier age. Thomas said most of his childhood was spent working in a shop. His dad, he said, “was the best carriage maker in the world.”

Thomas went on to study art and earned his degree in California. He opened his first shop, called Bear Acres, in 1986 in Point Arena, California and specialized in the creation of large wooden sculptures, solely made with careful strokes of a chainsaw.

Aside from a full-time career in wood crafting, he also spent his days as a fire chief and volunteer firefighter in California. On September 11, 2001, his career as both an artist and firefighter intertwined.

The news left him compelled to do something, he said.

A moment he recalls as both fulfilling and profound during his career as an artist, Thomas presented a 10.5-foot-tall sculpture titled, “Out of the Rubble” to New York City Fire Department (FDNY) Squad Company 1.

The piece featured the 343 names of firefighters and paramedics who had lost their lives that day, he said. The piece stands tall and depicts firemen holding a flag on the grounds of the World Trade Center.

“When you can do a piece of art that touches people, it doesn’t get any better than that,” he said. “There is nothing in my life that will ever match it.”

Thomas fondly recalls his time as a chainsaw carver. He now lives in Birch View, Washington with his wife and no longer works on big pieces like he used to. However, he still dedicates his time to the craft and others who pursue a similar artistry.

He hopes that he and his fellow carvers can to make it up to Discover Birch Bay Days for years to come. To learn more about Discover Birch Bay Days, visit

The event is sponsored by the Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce and the Blaine-Birch Bay Park and Recreation District 2.

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