Search Results for "downed"

Trees Downed in 2012 Storm Crafted into Stand for Local Bell

Urban wood bell stand

The red oak and black walnut bell stand, now a permanent part of the West Chicago City Museum’s collection, is surrounded from left to right by Tom Tawney, Lorenzo Covarrubias, Fernando Ramirez, Jeff Perkis, Mayor Ruben Pineda and Sara Phalen.

West Chicago, Illinois: August 28, 2015 Downed trees from the storm that hit Reed-Keppler Park in West Chicago on July 1, 2012 continue to give back to the community more than three years later through the talents of architect, woodworker and former resident Jeff Perkis.

The City of West Chicago commissioned Perkis to create a lasting legacy that celebrates the heritage and culture of many of its residents It will play a major role in the upcoming Mexican Independence Day Parade and Celebration, to be held downtown on Sunday, September 13, 2015.

A four-foot tall, solid red oak bell stand with walnut accents, sturdy enough to hold the approximately 80-pound train bell, which has been at the center of the spirited historical re-enactment of El Grito de la Independencia or the Cry of Independence, was built with the repurposed wood that Perkis and his uncle, Ron Myers, milled a couple of months after the storm.

As a member of the Illinois Wood Utilization Team (WUT), as well as a member of the Chicago Furniture Design Association (CFDA), Perkis is a specialist in sustainable design utilizing urban wood. He created Out of the Woods after the storm hit and worked with architecture students and Associate Professor Paul Pettigrew at the Illinois Institute of Technology to design and fabricate various pieces of extraordinary works of art.

Perkis became aware of the need for the bell stand following an introduction to West Chicago resident, Tom Tawney, who also has strong ties to the community. Tawney’s father-in-law, Lorenzo Covarrubias, emigrated from Mexico in 1957 as one of the first Mexican families to settle in West Chicago. He holds the distinction of being West Chicago’s Patron de la Campana, or Patron of the Bell, and has offered the use of his bell for West Chicago’s El Grito for the past 23-years. However, over the years, its makeshift stand was worn and in need of replacement.

The two men agreed to work together on a design, and the City agreed to underwrite the cost of the labor and materials to build a new stand.  From a design standpoint, the decision was made to replicate some of the styles already existing within the community, particularly the Arts and Crafts style of many of the homes in the area. Perkis also referenced work done by architect brothers Greene and Greene, and ended up translating elements of these designs into his own. His fine craftsmanship and woodworking skills produced a stand that is strikingly beautiful and worthy of the momentous historic event that it celebrates.

The project has come to have great significance for Perkis, and he became introspective recently about its meaning for him. “I grew up playing baseball, football and soccer at Reed-Keppler Park. I spent a large part of my childhood in that Park”.

He continues to wonder from which exact tree this wood may have come, and if he had seen it in the Park before? “I found myself reminiscing about many childhood memories. I felt, and still do feel, very proud that I was able to give this wood, from such a devastating event, a chance to continue to be enjoyed by the community. I am happy that not all the wood from that storm was turned into firewood or mulch, and I hope this will help others to see that there is opportunity for a higher use of wood from our own backyards.”

Perkis presented the new bell stand to the West Chicago City Museum on Wednesday, August 26, 2015, surrounded by fellow residents Tom Tawney and Lorenzo Covarrubias, Mayor Ruben Pineda, Museum Director Sara Phalen and Mexican Cultural Center DuPage’s President and event organizer, Fernando Ramirez. Perkis plans on using some of the saw dust and wood chips he collected from the project to make paper on which he will print the details of the stand’s creation so that it will “tell its story” for future generations. The stand will become part of the City’s permanent collection and remain at the Museum when it is not being used at the City event.

Seizing the Value of Fallen Trees

How circular economics for urban wood waste can grow in New York City; Pittsburgh and Eugene, OR.

By Marisa Repka, Co-Founder and CFO of Cambium Carbon
& James Anderson, Associate II, Natural Infrastructure, World Resources Institute

A Brooklyn tree felled by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Imagine two trucks passing on a city street. One is a delivery truck carrying new wood flooring and furniture to stores and homes in the city. The other is carrying a fallen city tree damaged by a recent storm, taking it out of town to be mulched, burned or sent to a landfill.

This scenario plays out every day in urban communities around the world and represents a huge, missed opportunity for cities, consumers and the climate. Trees offer various benefits for cities, yet 36 million trees come down in cities across the United States each year due to disease, development or old age. Much of this wood ends up burned, chipped into mulch or tossed into landfills, despite its potential to become a valuable product.

The “reforestation hubs” model allows cities to create new value from fallen urban trees. Rather than

continuing business-as-usual urban wood waste, cities can help recover and “upcycle” that waste into higher-value products such furniture, flooring and construction material. The revenue that is generated from the sale of those items and the reduced cost of wood waste disposal can then funnel back into urban forestry projects, such as planting new trees or maintaining existing trees.

New case studies by Cambium Carbon and the Arbor Day Foundation show that there is a substantial urban wood re-use opportunity in three major U.S. cities that are part of the Cities4Forests network. If cities seize the opportunity to build a wood reuse market, they can save money, provide new resources for urban forest restoration and see significant climate benefits.

Salvaging Wood Waste from Pittsburgh
Nested along steep hillsides prone to erosion, Pittsburgh, PA, is on a mission to restore its degraded landscapes. The city hopes to plant 100,000 trees by 2030 and combat a 6.2 percent tree canopy decline from 2010 to 2015.

Pittsburgh’s tree loss has affected the city in various ways. In 2020 alone, Pittsburgh removed more than 1,300 trees from public land at a cost of roughly $27 per ton for contracted disposal. Trees are typically removed in two- to three-foot sections, with smaller-diameter limbs and brush ground up for mulch, compost or boiler fuel. This process releases the carbon stored in trees back into the atmosphere. And in addition to the cost of disposal, the city loses an estimated $250,000 annually from the unrealized economic value of the material.

Wood waste use presents an opportunity for the city to cut costs, meet its urban forestry goal and increase material efficiency. The study identifies opportunities for the city to use its wood waste stream to make products necessary for new planting, such as tree stakes or mulch. While the city’s current contract for wood waste management entitles it to a portion of finished mulch or compost, very little of that material is claimed in practice. This is due to gaps in communication between disposal and new procurement, as well as existing mulch not being ground to the specifications required for reuse. Returning the city’s own wood waste to the landscape can not only advance zero waste initiatives, but help the city avoid new procurement costs. This would free up the critical urban forestry budget needed to care for and restore the city’s tree canopy.

Catalyzing a Wood Waste Economy in Eugene
Eugene, OR’s rich legacy as a regional center for forest product manufacturing provides a unique opportunity for the city to create a commercial market for salvaged wood and get fallen logs into the hands of local processors. The city removed roughly 1,000 trees in 2020, which contained as much as 50,000 board feet of merchantable wood. That’s enough material to stretch a whole mile long and almost 10 feet across with one-inch slabs of wood. At the same time, the team behind the study identified 76 wood millers, secondary wood product manufacturers and potential buyers in the area who could make a market from this wood.

Cities need fixed infrastructure to process and up-cycle urban wood. Therefore, the study recommends using a shared sorting yard to aggregate logs from sources such as city crews, tree care companies and the local electric utility. In turn, a public-private partnership — such as a model pioneered in Eau Claire, WI, by the nonprofit Wisconsin Urban Wood — could enable local sawyers and millers to use and process the material through their existing facilities. Eugene’s legacy as a logging town also offers the private sector capacity and critical expertise needed to mill, dry and sell recycled wood as products such as tables, furniture or flooring. This makes a compelling case for the city to collaborate with local artisans and manufacturers, rather than oversee its own processing infrastructure.

Centralizing New York City’s Wood Waste Processing
Between 2015 and 2020, New York City removed an average of over 12,000 street and park trees each year. Most tree material was chipped on site, allowing for easier transportation and disposal outside of the congested urban environment. The city also has a decentralized urban forestry system in which each of the five boroughs operates its own forestry team. This largely siloed approach makes it even more complicated to manage a massive wood waste stream.

Waste management costs also pose a major challenge. With real estate and transit at a premium, the cost to have wood waste hauled and disposed — known as a “tipping fee” — can be up to $70 a ton. These costs can be significantly increased after severe storm events: 2020’s Hurricane Isaias downed nearly 3,400 trees in New York City parks, leading to a bill of more than $1.5 million for the city’s wood waste management that year.

The case study found that establishing a centralized sorting and processing operation to recycle fallen wood from Brooklyn and Queens alone could provide a net present value of $7 million over 10 years in addition to savings from avoided disposal fees. A reuse program within the city could also avoid significant transportation and disposal emissions, as the city would no longer have to truck waste outside of the city and state. Additionally, local processing would allow for carbon storage in durable wood products, much of which would otherwise be released during burning, mulching and decomposition. In addition to reduced transportation emissions, the study estimates that over 10,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions can be reduced through a pilot wood reuse program through carbon storage alone.

Scaling the Urban Wood Opportunity
The urban wood opportunity is not limited to these three cities. While specific wood waste management strategies will vary according to local context, these new assessments can help identify best practices for peer cities looking to make the most of their fallen trees.

For example, cities can create unified asset management systems for tree data. All three cities had an issue with fragmented information management, as various agencies (such as planning and zoning, public works, and branches of parks and recreation) kept separate tree records. As a result, tree removals were not measured or managed in a cohesive fashion. Other cities may be able to establish centralized log collection infrastructure, as pioneered by Baltimore. Other cities, including members of Cities4Forests, may wish to revise policies, such as setting new contractor requirements for disposal or establishing a local preference for city procurement.

Regardless of next steps, one thing is clear: Cities have a lot to gain from seizing the value of their fallen trees. While these case studies provide three models for wood reuse, it’s up to government leaders across the nation to develop full life cycle management strategies for city trees and discover how reforestation hubs can benefit their communities.

This story first appeared on WRI.

Fall for ‘Felled’ This Holiday Season

Felled: A Documentary Film About Giving New Life to Fallen Urban Trees is available for on-demand viewing.

Tiny Chair Productions offers this description of its 57-minute documentary: “Felled is a story about finding worth and beauty in something most consider to be trash. The film chronicles the journey of an urban pine tree downed by a summer storm and saved from the landfill by two woodworkers who give the tree new meaning as a family dinner table. Through interviews with industry experts, sawyers, arborists, artists, and woodworkers, including both Norm Abram and Nick Offerman, the film highlights the growing urban lumber movement and explores themes of waste, craftsmanship, and redemption.

Felled is available online to rent for $1.99 or purchase for $9.00. Check out the trailer provided here.


Bringing New Life to Fallen Urban Trees

Cities in the United States could plant an estimated 400 million trees, making them an essential player in tree restoration. Photo by Vladimir Kudinov/Unsplash

By Todd Gartner and Ben Christensen

The city is a difficult place for a tree to survive. Compared to their counterparts in the countryside, urban trees generally get less water, suffer more intense heat, compete for space with unyielding infrastructure and frequently become riddled with disease and pests. As a result, many cities are stuck with a lot of dead trees every year.

Cities and private contractors cut them down and usually turn them into firewood, mulch or haul them to the landfill. Often, cities replant fewer trees than they remove, leading to a net loss in canopy cover over time.

However, these trees don’t have to go to waste. “Reforestation hubs” are an exciting model that will save these trees from landfills and instead find new uses for them, such as repurposing for furniture or flooring. This can help cities deal with dead trees while saving money, creating new jobs, addressing long-term public health goals and mitigating climate change at scale.

The Urban Wood Opportunity
Restoring trees to the United States landscape offers big benefits for the climate and communities alike. The scale of the opportunity is staggering: landscapes across the United States alone could support 60 billion new trees. This would sequester up to 540 million tons of CO2 per year – equivalent to replacing 117 million gasoline cars with electric vehicles running on clean electricity. The United States could plant an estimated 400 million of these trees in cities. Capturing this opportunity will take financial resources and concerted effort by a variety of public and private partners.

While waiting for government funding or voluntary private sector finance to kick in at a meaningful scale, cities across the country hold a massive and untapped resource. However, this resource is going to waste – literally.

Every year, 36 million trees come down in cities across the United States due to old age, disease and new development, resulting in economic losses of up to $786 million each year. Much of this wood could become valuable products, but instead often gets chipped, thrown in a landfill or burned as firewood. Rethinking urban wood waste could be an unexpected climate and economic solution, turning a burden on the climate and city budgets into a financial engine for reforestation across the broader landscape.

This opportunity is the impetus for the concept of reforestation hubs, pioneered by Cambium CarbonCities4Forests and the Arbor Day Foundation, which will be working with city officials to create the nation’s first reforestation hubs by 2022 through a TNC Natural Climate Change Solutions Accelerator Grant.

What is a Reforestation Hub?
In their simplest form, reforestation hubs are public-private partnerships that save cities money and generate revenue to plant and maintain more trees by diverting downed urban trees from landfills. Instead of going to waste, downed trees are sorted and turned into their highest and best use like furniture, cross-laminated timber, lumber, flooring, compost or mulch. This saves cities money and generates revenue to plant and maintain more trees, building a vibrant circular economy and allowing cities to better combat climate change. In the process, reforestation hubs also support public health and economic growth by creating jobs in green infrastructure through employing people at mills, nurseries and new planting initiatives.

Despite the value urban wood can provide, critical obstacles stand in the way of utilizing them. Cities lack the infrastructure to make fallen trees valuable, and wood product supply chains are not structured around urban wood products. Addressing these two gaps is the first step in creating a functioning reforestation hub. Doing so will require investments in sort yards and mill infrastructure to process incoming wood waste, bringing together city officials, urban millers, artisans, furniture makers, biochar facilities and composting operations. Additionally, it will require building value chains that connect these urban wood ecosystems to the broader market.

Urban wood champions are chipping away at this vision, but with slow progress. Building a reforestation hub requires immense collaboration, and urban wood is a complex raw material to build consistent supply chains around. Reforestation hubs break this log jam by bringing together four ingredients:

  1. City-level commitments to divert wood from city agency and contractor operations, buy urban wood for city operations and establish long-term planting plans.
  2. Private finance from philanthropic and impact investors for necessary infrastructure.
  3. A market incubation platform that drives consumer awareness and leverages technology to connect buyers and sellers.
  4. A social impact mission that reinvests profits from the new urban wood economy into tree planting in reforestation hub cities and the surrounding landscapes.

This vision builds on the work of the Baltimore Wood Project, which creates furniture and other high-value products from dead urban trees and reclaimed lumber from houses facing demolition. Baltimore created a network of suppliers and buyers of reclaimed lumber and invested heavily in Camp Small, a sort yard that can process their existing waste stream and turn it into value.

Growing New Opportunities for City Trees
Reforestation hubs not only bring value through using dead trees, but by creating a path for planting new trees in cities. This comes with numerous public health benefits, including purifying air and water, helping to reduce respiratory disease and decreasing heat. Trees also increase storm water retention to ease stress on city sewer systems.

Tree canopy health often follows wealth and racial lines in cities, depriving underserved communities of these benefits. Reforestation hubs, by applying the principles of tree equity, can provide funds to improve tree health and plant more trees that benefit these communities. They can also provide new employment opportunities through the markets created for previously under-utilized urban wood.

Making the Most of Fallen Trees
With the financial strain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, cities may face pressure to defer tree maintenance and replanting, despite the many benefits urban trees provide. At the same time, well-planned reforestation holds the potential to improve the respiratory health of residents and increased urban tree canopies can help cities meet their climate goals. Reforestation hubs offer a multitude of benefits, building new revenue to help fund tree care and planting as well as providing a path to financing broader tree work in cities. As a result, reforestation hubs have immense potential to become economic, public health and climate boons for cities in the face of intersecting crises.

Stay up to date on this exciting work and encourage your city to join the movement here.

This blog was originally published on WRI’s Insights.

Todd Gartner is the director of Cities4Forests and WRI’s Natural Infrastructure Initiative.

Ben Christensen is a former carbon removal research intern at World Resources Institute.


Slideshow: Chicago Park District’s Wintery Milling Project

The Chicago Park District’s (CPD) Department of Cultural and Natural Resources team recently initiated lumber milling at West Ridge Natural Area, 5800 N. Western Ave.
Gerry Hamm, owner of GH Hamm Woodworking & Sawmill, of Mundelein, IL, was contacted by Mike Dimitroff, manager of Art Initiatives, and Matt Freer, director of Natural Resources Natural Areas, to mill CPD trees infested with the emerald ash borer and downed logs at West Ridge. 
Dimitroff was joined by project manager Isaiah Ballinger and team members Alex Loepke, Krzysztof Makowski and Tyrone Murdo, to assist in the project.
The milling operation involved loading park district logs, which were cut and transported by CPD Forestry, under the direction of Mike Brown, to the West Ridge site. There, the logs were loaded onto the Hamm’s mill and sawed into full-length 3-inch-thick, live-edge slabs.
The slabs will be open-air cured, then cut to length and used as bench stock material. The new benches will be incorporated into CPD natural areas, like Big Marsh and Hegwish as well as other parks and natural areas’ settings.
According to Dimitroff, “This initiative demonstrates one aspect of a great, multi-team effort in continuing our DCNR sustainability mindset.”

Iowa Derecho: So many trees lost, so little wood saved

A crew cleans up tree debris following the Aug. 10 derecho in Cedar Rapids, IA.

By Rich Christianson

The wicked Aug. 10 derecho that spawned tornadoes, high winds and torrential rains throughout the Midwest sent me to take cover in a basement for the second time in my life. One look at the fast-approaching gray green front was enough to convince me that the tornado alerts for the northwest side of Chicago were more than mere local news hype. I was instantly reminded of the 1967 tornadoes that struck Oak Lawn, IL, that caused my parents to shoo my siblings and me downstairs. That event claimed 58 lives.

Fortunately for us, the worst of the storm in my area were a few downed trees and many heavy branches. Many in Iowa were not so lucky.

According to the Washington Post, the Iowa derecho was the most costly thunderstorm in U.S. history. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimated damage in Iowa and other midwestern states at $7.6 billion. That’s higher than any recorded tornado and more than many hurricanes.

Cedar Rapids, IA, was particularly hard hit. Wind gusts of up to 140 mph plummeted the area. Electrical power was knocked out for nearly all 133,000 residents and more than 1,000 homes were rendered unlivable.

The derecho also wiped out about 20 percent of Iows’s crops and felled trees by the hundreds. 

Six weeks after the devastating event, the Des Moines Register reported that the city’s cleanup crews had transported 9,291 loads of tree debris to a huge metropolitan compost site.

Several other articles posted in the wake of the Iowa derecho reported how local woodworkers and artists were using wood from felled trees to make craft items, most of them being sold or auctioned to support relief efforts. But that’s a drop in the ocean considering the massive amount of wood that could potentially be repurposed. 

No doubt, the number one priority in this type of situation is clearing downed trees in the interests of public safety. But somewhere after the smoke clears, it would be optimal to have a plan for repurposing as many of these trees as practically possible. Doing so begins by integrating urban wood utilization into disaster planning. 

I think we’ll get there, but we’re clearly not there yet. We still have far to many metropolitan cities to integrate urban wood recovery into their urban forestry initiatives. But perhaps the Iowa derecho can serve as a wake-up call for municipalities to realize that even if they can’t plan what do to with trees after a natural disaster, that they can at least figure out what might be done to gain value from the sycamore tree removed from the Smith’s parkway.

Baby steps…



Atlantic Fine Woods: From African Exotics to Georgian Urban Wood


Atlantic Fine Hardwoods (AFH) business model is far different today than the one upon which it was founded by the brother-and-sister duo Joe and Laura Sissoko.

According to the company’s website, AFH started as an importer of hardwood logs sustainably sourced from the tropical forest of the Congo Basin. 

An article in the spring 2020 issues of Atlanta Home magazine offers more details about the company’s origins and why it shifted to urban woods.

“When siblings Laura and Joe Sissoko decided to start milling wood in 2012, it wasn’t for furniture, but rather for fine guitars and other musical instruments. At first, the pair called the company African Figurative Woods and supplied exotic woods primarily to the niche world of fine guitars and other instruments. But in 2014, political strife and sectarian violence in the Central African Republic prevented exports from the country. That’s when the Sissokos turned to domestic woods — specifically local domestic wood. Aside from the exotic species, all of the wood they mill comes from downed trees in the metro Atlanta area, which they dub ‘urban wood.'” 

In addition to milling, AHF has a large-scale kiln to dry maple, pecan, walnut, hackberry and other woods salvaged from the greater Atlanta-area’s urban forest. To find suitable logs, AHF works with private tree care services. The company’s customer base is primarily woodworkers looking for something unique for their custom projects.

AFH’s website describes some of  the distinctions between urban wood and tradition forest products.  

“The process of milling urban trees is much more labor-intensive and time-consuming than what you find in the traditional forest products process. The processes are similar to the difference between handmade artisan work and what happens on a large-scale, industrial assembly line. Urban trees are collected in small quantities, cut to appropriate sizes, scanned for metal or other defects, and processed in small batches where the character and unique quality of the wood can be carefully brought to its full potential. We believe the defects in the wood — dynamic live edges, knots, cracks and voids — are what brings it character and beauty, and we try to maximize the potential of each log we mill.​”

As urban wood became a larger focus, the Sissokos rechristened their business Atlantic Fine Hardwoods. While AFH no longer imports logs, it still maintains an inventory of exotic woods. from the Central African Republic. “We want to start doing the milling and processing there,” Joe told Atlanta magazine. “That way we’d leave more work and more jobs in that country.”


At-risk Youth Learn About Urban Wood

Editor’s note: The following article was written by Lekas & Levine Public Relations.

That buzzing sound recently heard throughout Allendale’s Lake Villa campus was the sound of transformation at work.

Literally, it was a large hydraulic sawmill cutting fallen trees into slabs, the first step to turning those dying white oaks into timeless handcrafted furniture.

In a deeper sense, it echoed Allendale Association’s mission of helping youth who have experienced various forms of trauma and adversity find their strength and capacity, transforming over time into healthy, independent adults.

The new, repurposed wood program is a collaboration between Allendale — a not-for-profit facility for kids with serious emotional, mental and behavioral challenges — and Jeff Clark, owner of Old School Timber Works Company in Libertyville. Clark is passionate about repurposing Illinois’ urban hardwood, as well as teaching life skills to at-risk youth.

Woodworking has long been a part of Allendale’s Career and Technical Education Program, which helps students develop vocational skills. Its wood shop instructor, Rob Serdar, a third-generation carpenter, was seeking ways to develop the program when the opportunity arose.

“Our hope is to expand our students’ imaginations and capabilities,” Serdar said, “while providing locally-sourced, high-quality wood pieces that will bring exposure to Allendale and give students a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

In addition, Clark — whose company provides on-site milling services, sells repurposed lumber and creates custom wood pieces — believes students will benefit from a better understanding of responsibly sourcing their lumber.

The process is known as Tree to Table; i.e., repurposing fallen lumber into furniture and goods rather than dumping and chipping it.

“Over a billion board feet of quality urban hardwood is wasted every year in the U.S.,” Clark said.

“These kids were part of a sustainable process in which they created beautiful, white oak lumber, saving and repurposing a worthy asset. Maybe that’s a life lesson that goes beyond milling lumber.”

One day in December, Clark brought his sawmill to Allendale’s 120-acre, wooded campus. He cut several downed white oaks into slabs, while the wood shop students cleaned, transported and stacked the slabs in preparation for the next step: curing them in Allendale’s new kiln.

The kiln, a large space filled with fans and dehumidifiers that dry out the wood, was funded through a grant provided by the Grace Bersted Foundation, Bank of America, N.A., Trustee. The grant also provided for initial supplies needed to get the program running.

Days after the event, students were still talking about it and itching to get their hands on the wood. Since then, they’ve used it to make several pieces of furniture and decorative home signs. Clark is slated to share tips and techniques in upcoming classes.

As the students’ skills advance, Serdar said, they’ll start building more elaborate tables, shelving and benches, as well as cutting boards, Charcuturie platters and decorative wood signs.

Some of the benches will be placed around campus and donated to the village of Lake Villa. In addition, creations will be sold at Allendale’s community craft and floral sales, perhaps as early as spring.

The proceeds will not only fund the purchase of ongoing supplies, but benefit the students’ vocational stipends. Meanwhile, as salvaged wood products become increasingly popular, the kids are gaining the skills to secure a place in this growing field, along with an appreciation for the environment and a lifelong passion that will serve them well.

Sculptor Adds Urban Wood to Her Palette

Chicago-area artist Margot McMahon’s works have been exhibited far and wide. Her sculptures can be found among private collections around the globe as well as the Smithsonian, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago Historical Society, Chicago Botanical Gardens, and Yale University to name a few.

According to her website, McMahon typically models in clay then casts in metal or concrete, welds in steel and carves in stone. But she also has had opportunity to use urban wood as her medium. Indeed, the carvings adorning this post utilized a 300-year-old maple tree that was downed in a 2011 wind storm.

Responding to an email seeking more information about the tree, McMahon replied, “The maple was in our backyard and on Lake Michigan a sailboat measured 103 mph wind (gusts). The wind came across Wisconsin and traveled along the bird flyway. It hit The Garfield Park Conservatory and broke every rooftop window. I was at an environmental meeting at the Oak Park Library when I saw the sky go dark and suggested we leave our meeting early. I texted the family to stay where they were and wait out the storm.”

McMahon said she had the tree cut into carvable sizes. Some of the log sections were 3 to 4 feet in diameter. “I found carving a 300-year-old tree meaningful,” she said.

McMahon’s local urban wood connections include serving on the Outdoor Committee of Chicago Sculpture International. CSI collaborates with the Chicago Park District on the The Chicago Tree Project to give “sick and dying trees a second life as a work of vibrant public art.” Her contributions to the Tree Project includes Perch – Preen, a dying ash tree turned artwork in Hale Park.

Learn more about Margot McMahon.

See related article about 2019 Chicago Tree Project.


Retired Teacher Focuses on Growing Urban Wood Business

After retiring last spring from a distinguished teaching career that spanned 33 years, Steve Skorup has decided to dedicate more time to harvesting urban trees to make furniture and other wood products.

Skorup spent most of his teaching career at Waubonsie Valley High School where he taught technology and engineering education. Among his many honors, Skorup was named 2003 Illinois Drafting Educators Association Teacher of the Year, 2007 ITEA Teacher of the Year and twice chosen as SkillsUSA Advisor of the Year. He also coached wrestling for 24 years and was nominated IWCOA Assistant Wrestling Coach of the Year.

A resident of Sandwich, IL, Skorup operates SAWINC. It’s a company he launched while attending high school. His company specializes in harvesting trees to make wood products including live-edge tables, cutting boards and furniture.

“I have done woodworking since I was in high school in Lockport,” Skorup wrote in an email. “I have had my company SAWINC since high school when a friend and I formed a small cabinet making enterprise. My interest in urban wood utilization began about five years ago when Brandon Dobnick, a neighbor, began working for Morton Arboretum and was taking down trees on the side. He now has his own business, Dobnick Timberworks/Vertical Solutions. We started with one walnut tree and a table project he wanted to do and from there we started acquiring trees, doing some work while waiting for me to retire from teaching and dedicate more time to the business.

“We started with Brandon’s chain saw mill but also hired a Wade Ellis out of West Chicago who had a Wood-Mizer sawmill when we had a big pile we needed milled,” he continued. “We’ve acquired trees from some area tree services, towns, school districts, or we cut our own. I have been storing up slabs for four years and am looking forward to making some more products moving forward.”

Notable sources of logs have included the Morton Arboretum’s prairie restoration along the DuPage River, trees downed by a tornado in 2015 at the Woodhaven Lakes campground and a pair of American elms from the Frank Lloyd Wright home and studio in Oak Park. Skorup noted that the trees he salvaged from the tornado scene represented a mere handful of the number that were felled. “So many of the trees were just ground to mulch in the clean-up effort,” Skorup said.

“My Frank Lloyd Wright live edge table won a Blue Ribbon at the Sandwich Fair last year,” Skorup added. “I try and use all pieces of the tree – serving boards, Poppe blocks for my grandchildren, outdoor ash benches, etc.”

Skorup says he plans to build a website for his business. In the meantime, he can be contacted at