Urban Timber program responds to crisis with innovation and collaboration

Like great innovators often do, the Cincinnati Park Board had a problem. The root of the problem was this: About 10 years ago, the emerald ash borer, a beetle native to Asia and Eastern Russia, was found in Detroit.
The beetle is known to be 100 percent fatal to ash trees, barring a treatment that was too expensive and cumbersome for the park board to consider. With more than 10 percent of Cincinnati’s trees being made up of ash trees, the parks were left with a sizable challenge.  
“We knew that we’d have to cut a lot of trees down or risk them decaying and falling down, so we started working on a program to make something out of all of this wood,” says Dave Gamstetter, Natural Resource Manager for the Cincinnati Park Board.  “
This eventually led to the formation of Urban Timber, a collaboration between the Cincinnati Park Board, Wilhelm Lumber and several other local partners. The main focus of Urban Timber is creating flooring, tables and dimensioned lumber produced from trees harvested in the city of Cincinnati. Another dimension that sets this initiative apart is that proceeds from the sale of Urban Timber products go to replanting trees in the city.
“It’s really a case of making lemonade out of lemons,” Gamstetter says. “Instead of spending around $100,000 a year to turn the infected trees into mulch, we can look at these trees as resources, convert them into a product people can use, put the money back into reforestation, and consumers can support local businesses and their local economy by buying it.”
One of the key minds behind the idea for Urban Timber was Sam Sherrill, a professor emeritus at the University of Cincinnati and author of the book "Harvesting Urban Timber."
“Sam really pushed the idea of using the trees and finding a market for the lumber,” Gamstetter says. “He’s definitely a renowned expert on the process, and I don’t think many people realize he lives here in Cincinnati.”
Past clients include Cincinnati Public Schools, Landor and more. Urban Timber is currently in talks with Cintrifuse to put wood floors into their new Over-the-Rhine office space, currently under construction across from the Mercer Commons development.
By Mike Sarason

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