Ever wonder what happens to the wood from trees in Philly parks that fall down or need to be removed?
Right now, a lot of it gets sent to the Fairmount Park Organic Recycling Center and ends up as mulch and woodchips. But under a new city initiative, it could find new life as usable — and sellable — lumber.
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Set to launch as a pilot next year, the new “Reforestation Hub” at the recycling center will focus on milling salvageable sections of removed trees. The lumber will be sold to orgs that can put it to use, and some of the proceeds will go toward the city’s efforts to grow Philadelphia’s tree canopy.
The Reforestation Hub would also aim to capture wood waste that currently ends up in landfills, said Marc Wilken, director of business development at the Department of Parks and Recreation, which is spearheading the effort.
In Philadelphia, the amount of wood that needs to be disposed of — from dead, dying, or fallen trees on city streets or in city parks — is on the rise, Wilken said.
“Because of the intensity of weather events, … invasive species, and just aging forests, there’s a growing volume of material coming through,” Wilken said. “We need to respond to that, and manage it, and improve the way we manage the material that’s coming in.”
Baltimore has been successfully running a similar program since 2016, and Philly officials have visited. In addition to milling old trees, Baltimore’s program also salvages wood waste from building deconstruction.
For the next six months or so, program partners in Philadelphia are working on setting up the site and designing the training program curriculum, according to Cambium Carbon cofounder Marisa Repka.
The goal is to have Philly’s pilot up and running by spring.
A ‘self-sustaining cycle’ that sells wood to plant trees
Philly Parks & Rec started the research for this project a few years back, according to Wilken, the business development director. After completing a feasibility study, the department issued a request for proposals seeking an organization to help run the woodmill, he said, and from there the partners were selected.
With them on board, here’s how the Reforestation Hub is slated to work:
Fallen and removed trees will be transported to the Fairmount Park recycling center. There, cohort members from PowerCorpsPHL — a paid workforce development program that recruits “disconnected” young adults and returning citizens to learn real-world skills via environmental stewardship initiatives — will mill the wood into usable lumber.
Cambium Carbon, which specializes in marketing reclaimed wood, will then find buyers. Options include local or regional woodshops, architects, furniture makers, and other national buyers, said cofounder Repka. The lumber could be also used by the city internally.
At least 15% of proceeds will go toward TreePhilly’s work planting and maintaining trees throughout the city, Repka said. She described the whole process as a “self-sustaining cycle.”
In terms of employment, the hub will start small in its first year, Wilken said, with a yardmaster and two more full-time PowerCorpsPHL staffers. The hope is to eventually add up to three more workers.
The public-private venture received a $277,000 grant last month from the “Operations Transformation Fund” — a $10-million cache that Philadelphia’s Chief Administrative Officer distributes among departments to fund “transformative” municipal projects.
That plus a $250,000 “Wood Innovations” grant from the U.S. Forest Service and in-kind contributions from project partners have gotten the project off the group, covering upfront fixed costs like sawmill equipment and training program development, Repka said.
Cambium Carbon and PowerCorpsPHL have a one-year contract with the city, Wilken said, which can be extended for up to three more one-year terms. Any more extensions would need approval from City Council, and that could pave the way for an agreement to potentially last decades.
“We think it’s gonna be sustainable,” Wilken said. “We think it’s gonna be successful, that it’s going to sustain itself, that the business model will cover the cost of the operation, plus have [an] additional 15% of proceeds going into TreePhilly … we believe in the numbers and think we can meet them.”