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Urban Wood Businesses in Ann Arbor, MI

06September

Urban Wood Businesses in Ann Arbor, MI

I always look forward to visits to Michigan because it is where the urban wood movement was born. The emerald ash borer beetle was first discovered near Detroit in 2002 and soon after, mass removals of ash trees began in an attempt to stop the spread.

Local networks of municipalities, sawmills, and manufacturers organized to save these logs from the waste steam and instead put them to their highest and best use as lumber and unique wood products. The success of this supply chain has served and continues to serve as a model for other states, including Wisconsin.

In July, I joined city managers, arborists, architects, builders, and community members in The Urbanwood Tour, where I was able to meet and learn more about select Urbanwood businesses in the Ann Arbor area.

The event was hosted by the Sustainable Resources Alliance (formerly the SE Michigan RC&D Council) and Recycle Ann Arbor. Funding for this event came from the Bringing Urban Forestry Full Circle grant project which is supported by the USDA* Forest Service Northeastern Area, State and Private Forestry Landscape Scale Restoration Grant Program. This grant also funds the project I recently helped launch called the Urban Wood Network, a new industry resource for entrepreneurs interested in joining the urban wood movement.

Here’s the rundown of the businesses I visited with. I highly recommend you check them out online or in person.

Urban Ashes
An artisan picture frame and furniture making company founded by furniture designer Paul Hickman. Paul’s team is made up of artisans from all backgrounds. He makes an extra effort to give opportunities to ex-felons so that they can reclaim their own lives along with the trees they work with. And his Detroit De-Nailed™ collection of Urban Ashes wood products is made from reclaimed de-nailed timbers from abandoned homes and buildings in the Detroit metro area.

Recycle Ann Arbor’s Birge Urbanwood Center
An urban lumber marketplace that is part of the Recycle Ann Arbor ReUse Center. The live edge slabs and urban wood lumber sold here are a part of a co-op program Recycle Ann Arbor has with six area sawmills. Artists, artisans, furniture makers, and woodworkers are the main customers who are looking for unique and sustainable materials for furniture, cabinetry, décor, or larger remodeling projects. Check out this interview with CEO Kirk Lignell on the Urban Wood Network.

Ann Arbor District Library — Traverwood Branch
This public library branch won the 2009 American Institute of Architects (AIA) Michigan Building Design Award its innovative design, which had as little impact on the land as possible. I first visited this library in 2010 when attending a different urban wood conference. The main feature is the ash woodwork, made of lumber milled from trees on the site. AADL received a $30,000 grant from the Southeast Michigan Resource Conservation & Development Council to remove and incorporate the trees into the new building’s construction. Watch this documentary, Up From the Ashes, for the full story behind the project.

Michigan State University’s Shadows Program
A university effort to make collectibles from campus trees as part of the Sustainable Wood Recovery Initiative at MSU. The trees are removed from campus due to decline, storm damage, or construction; milled into lumber and kiln dried by the MSU Department of Forestry; then sent to Michigan-based artists who design and craft the items. Profits support campus tree plantings and student educational programs in forestry and urban wood recovery. I met Dan Brown, coordinator of the Sustainable Wood Recovery Institute, and Paul Swartz, the campus arborist, to share how Wisconsin (through the Urban Forestry Council and the Milwaukee School of Engineering) is making strides to integrate urban wood utilization into higher education and training programs. MSU representatives also have goals to direct campus trees into university buildings. I hope to continue our discussions soon so we can continue to learn from each other’s successes.

Tervol’s Wood Products
This local family-owned sawmill joined The Urbanwood Tour to offer a live milling demonstration. In addition to sawing, kiln drying, and millwork, Tervol’s Wood Products manufactures flooring, molding, log cabin materials, and hayracks. They have more than 100,000 board feet of reclaimed lumber, including natural edge slabs, that they sell direct and through multiple Habitat for Humanity ReStore and Recycle Ann Arbor ReUse Center locations.

In the photo gallery above, I am pictured in the Traverwood library with Jessica Simons, who works on behalf of the Sustainable Resources Alliance in Michigan and Darren Taubman from the Ottawa Urban Wood Company in Canada. Additional photos show the newly dedicated Birge Urbanwood Center at Recycle Ann Arbor’s ReUse Center. Recycle Ann Arbor renamed the center in honor of Bill Birge, who recently retired after decades of service as an RAA board member.

The Urbanwood Tour was another example of how an organizational or association-level infrastructure is the most effective way to collaborate, share information, and ensure trees removed from our urban and community forests realize their highest and best possible use.

* The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities and is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

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