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UM crews prep for centennial Foresters' Ball

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MISSOULA, Mont. - Crews with the University of Montana's forestry program spent Friday putting the final touches on the 100th annual Foresters' Ball.

Second only to football, the Foresters' Ball is one of the university's longest running traditions. It transforms Screiber Gymnasium into a turn-of-the-century logging town complete with a general store, saloon, photo booth, chapel, barbershop and more. The venue also includes a museum paying homage to the ball's 100-year history.

"It's a 100-year-old tradition. There's nothing else like it anywhere in the world that we've been able to find," said veteran forestry scholarship administrator Alex Williams.

"We spend a year planning for this, and then it takes a little shy of a week to build it. Then we get 24 hours to make it look like we were never here," added this year's ball director, or "chief push," Kate Page. Page's title is a term coined from old mining towns.

New this year is an outdoor beer garden, which comes as a controversial move after a major change in 2012 that completely eliminated alcohol at the event due to criticism of heavy partying and consumption before and during the ball.

Then-president Royce Engstrom proposed a breathalyzer tester for all attendees, but ultimately backed off the idea.

Organizers say the change to the policy this year is a new approach to managing alcohol consumption.

"In (eliminating alcohol), we started to see a lot of people essentially pre-gaming and binge drinking before the event, and that became really, really problematic," said Williams.

"To us it just seemed like a better idea to control what was going to be here, because we can't control the public," added Page.

Page says the Badlander bar is catering the beer garden, handling crowd control and ID checks. She says alcohol served in the beer garden will not be allowed into the ball.

This year's venue also features a wooden slide. Crews say the slide is an attraction only constructed every other year because building it is so labor intensive and requires a large amount of material.

Nearly all the wood is either donated or reused from previous years and is perhaps as old and traditional as the ball itself. Page says the saloon front is from 1976.

"The Foresters' Ball, I think, is such an integral part of the University of Montana, the College of Forestry and Conservation community and, really, the Missoula community," Williams added.

Crews will also line the top deck of the gymnasium with dozens of Christmas trees dipped in fire retardant.

This year's performer is Reckless Kelly, a bluegrass band from Austin, Texas.

The ball runs Friday and Saturday night. Saturday is a family-friendly community Foresters' Day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Tickets to the ball cost $35 a person or $60 a couple. Page says there are about 1,000 tickets available, but she believes they will sell out. All proceeds go to a scholarship fund for students who help produce the Foresters' Ball.

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