The “Lumberjack Days” name, tarnished in recent years as legal troubles chipped away at its storied image, could return to Stillwater.
But whether that happens isn’t entirely clear, because opinions differ on how the name could be used — or whether it should be used at all.
Lumberjack Days in its latter years was associated with large and often boisterous regional festivals, attracting tens of thousands of people to downtown Stillwater each July.
“It’s unfortunate that this past few years of controversy could have damaged the name,” said Brad Glynn, one of five organizers of “Stillwater Log Jam,” the new summer event that replaced Lumberjack Days. “I hope people remember the good things.”
The rights to the name were pried loose from David Eckberg, the longtime Lumberjack Days coordinator, when he recently pleaded guilty to tax evasion. In the plea agreement, Eckberg surrendered the name to the city of Stillwater after years of debate about who really owned it.
The city held a contract with the Lumberjack Days Festival Association — an apparently defunct nonprofit group — but had been doing business directly with Eckberg and his St. Croix Events company.
Mike Polehna, a City Council member and longtime booster of Lumberjack Days, said the festival group claimed ownership of the Lumberjack Days name. Polehna said he and fellow City Council member Tom Weidner tried to buy the name with their own money last year to return it to the city.
“They just wanted too much money,” Polehna said of the group. “We were going to buy it personally and donate it as a gift to the city. I really hated to see that name die but it just wasn’t worth the cost.”
But Rick Hodsdon, the Washington County assistant attorney who negotiated the agreement, said Eckberg “has the authority to act on behalf of these corporate entities” because he was in the principal role as Lumberjack Days coordinator. The name was more of a brand name, or a business name, than a trademark, Hodsdon said.
The city of Stillwater didn’t ask to get the name back from Eckberg, Hodsdon said, but the matter came up in discussions with Eckberg’s attorney as part of the tax evasion case. Once the city transfers the name legally, Hodsdon said, it could be resold or used to license another Lumberjack Days event if the city chooses. Or, the city could choose to mothball it.
Glynn said the Log Jam organizers, known as “The Locals,” tried to use the Lumberjack Days name before they settled on Log Jam. Organizers have had no recent discussions with city officials about the Lumberjack Days name, he said.
The second Log Jam festival will be held in July. The three-year contract includes a third festival in 2016.
Glynn said he was worried less about the tarnish of the Lumberjack Days name from Eckberg’s crimes than about public expectations if it was used again.
“Do people expect a large rock band and a gated venue?” he said. Log Jam organizers have no intention of returning to the regional appeal of Lumberjack Days, he said, especially the rowdy nature of its final years.
“I think there’s value in the name going back to 1934 when it began,” Glynn said. “Our aspirations are to have an excellent homegrown festival like Lumberjack Days was when it started. It still speaks to the culture and history of Stillwater.”
Polehna said he doesn’t see any point in renaming Log Jam to Lumberjack Days.
“Not after they went through one year of Log Jam,” he said. “I think it would be nice if we brought it back someday but they’ve created their own identity.”
Lumberjack Days, Polehna said, could become something else. “Maybe we do a winter event,” he said. “Stillwater’s a summer community — spring, summer and fall. There’s nothing in the winter to bring people to downtown Stillwater.”
Hodsdon said Eckberg’s forfeiture of the name was secondary to prosecution for his criminal activities, which include a conviction in 2014 for issuing tens of thousands of dollars in worthless checks after the 2011 Lumberjack Days event.
“This is not restitution in the legal sense of the word. Restoration is a better way to put it,” Hodsdon said of the name transfer.