Hats Off to an Urban Wood Pioneer

By Rich Christianson

For those of us who think the concept of converting dead or dying urban trees into valuable lumber is a 21st century construct, think again.

I literally stumbled upon this YouTube video of a Sept. 17, 1993 report from ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings. In fact, I was only the second viewer when I did so. It’s about George Hessenthaler of Salt Lake City, UT. He was inspired to start Uniquest Industries, a business focused on turning logs destined for landfills into value-added lumber.

Soon after the ABC News report aired Hessenthaler renamed his enterprise more aptly Urban Forest Wood Works and moved it to nearby Logan.

Talk about an urban wood pioneer!

In an October 2001 report, “Utilizing Municipal Trees: Ideas from Across the Country,” Stephen Bratkovich, then with the U.S. Forest Service and now a consultant/project manager with Dovetail Partners of St. Paul, MN, attributed the following quote to Hessenthaler: “Anything made from wood can be from urban forest wood.”

A May 2013 article in the Logan Herald Journal noted that Hessenthaler was then observing his 25th anniversary of repurposing otherwise discarded urban wood. A former public relations man turned cabinetmaker turned sawyer, Hessenthaler estimated that he had sawn 500,000 board feet of lumber from more than 20 difference species of urban forest trees.

I think this quote from the Herald Journal’s interview with Hessenthaler sums up why so many groups are springing up across the country, including the Illinois Wood Utilization Team, dedicated to creating a sustainable market place for urban wood. “A tree grown in the city, after it’s given its 50, 60, 80 years of shade and comfort and pleasure is greeted with a horrible demise because it’s cut into chunks and burned, or taken to the dump, and I think it has a higher and better use. It has a greater destiny than being cut into firewood, so I hope a customer, when he or she buys a box will realize it’s been made out of a tree that would have otherwise been dumped in the landfill.”

Right on, George!