Business recycles damaged trees

August 25, 2008 8:08:02 AM PDT
Making the best out of a bad situation. That's the idea behind a suburban business that's reusing wood from trees damaged in bad storms. Hosea Sanders takes a look at how that company helps homeowners in a time of need while also saving a natural resource.

If a tree falls down in your yard, what do you do with it? Cut it up for firewood? Chip it down for mulch? That's what most people do. But we found a local company that's helping those old trees and limbs live on.

The recent severe weather took a toll on Mike Nailor's property in suburban St. Charles.

"We got lucky. Nobody was hurt, the house wasn't damaged. We got lucky in the long run," said Nailor.

But all of his trees and his beautiful canopy--not so lucky.

"There's a 200-year-old oak that's laying there and eight or nine maples that came down right along the tree line," said Nailor.

So, along with the aesthetic and emotional damage, Mike and his wife had to decide what to do with all the downed trees. That's where Bruce Horigan comes in. His company called Urban Forest Products reclaims those fallen trees. They turn them into high-quality lumber to be used in all kinds of wood products. He says they are taking recycling to a whole new level.

"Potentially, that oak tree behind you is about 250 years old. If we can get that into a house as flooring or a mantle or doors, it could potentially live as long or longer than it did as a tree in its second life," said Horigan.

The Skokie-based company was formed seven years ago by Bruce and his wife Erika. They specialize in recovering trees from local urban environments. They take the downed trees and process that excess wood which is then used by furniture-makers, flooring companies and craftsmen all over the country.

"This is a Siberian elm and it came out of Douglas Park in 2006," said Erika Horigan. "A big storm went through the southern part of the city and a bunch of trees came down and we were able to capture a few of them and the Siberian elm was part of that."

"We work with quite a number of wood workers, such as Jonathon Spoons in western Pennsylvania. This was a cherry tree that came down in Washington Park, most likely planted by Frederick Law Olmsted himself in 1873. There's Chicago history and he's kept it alive," said Bruce Horigan.

Meanwhile, for homeowner Mike Nailor, it's a win-win situation.

"I have all oak furniture and do wood-working on my own (a little tinkering around). If they can make furniture or as Bruce stated, a mantle, that's great, instead of just burning it up in a fire pit or fireplace or turning into mulch," Nailor said.

"In a way, every tree we use saves a tree from the forest," said Bruce Horigan.

Urban Forest Products also reclaims trees that that have come down due to disease, such as those destroyed by the emerald ash borer.

Furniture made from some of those trees will be on display at the Morton Arboretum.


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