Creative City Leaders Find New Life for Trees Destined to Decay

Creating a Win-Win

Urban Timber uses some of the salvaged wood from infected ash trees to make conference tables. Photo: Urban Timber

Urban Timber uses some of the salvaged wood from infected ash trees to make conference tables. Photo: Urban Timber

Sam Sherrill, a professor emeritus at the University of Cincinnati and author of Harvesting Urban Timber, was key in getting the park board to refocus its efforts and look at ways to turn the beetle problem into a win-win situation, Gamstetter says.

In 2009, they launched a program to cut down trees to keep them from decaying and falling down. They created a company, Urban Timber, which is a collaboration between the park board and nearby Wilhelm Lumber, among others. The idea was to sell the wood and use the revenue to replant new trees in the city.

The Trees Are Reborn

At the time, the Cincinnati public schools were undergoing renovation and were in the market for wood. Urban Timber harvested and cut the ash trees, and the school system bought the salvaged, undamaged wood. Another local partner, River City Furniture, then transformed the purchased wood into items like rolling cabinets used in Montessori schools.

“They bought pretty much all of our lumber for the first couple of years,” Gamstetter says. Urban Timber sells its lumber for $1 per square foot. It costs about $200 to replace a new tree, and so far the city has harvested about 60,000 square feet from infected trees — enough to pay for the replacement of 300 trees.

“We’re doing about 20,000 board feet a year,” he says. “If we hadn’t started doing this, all of that would have been destroyed or ground into mulch or turned into firewood.”

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