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MSU Program Turns Downed Trees into Furniture and Works of Art

by Tom Oswald

When a storm packing winds of more than 60 miles per hour blew through the Michigan State University campus earlier this summer, 21 mature trees, some estimated to be more than 100 years old, were lost in the blow.

But instead of ending up a pile of wood chips or, even worse, in a landfill, the wood will someday be turned into tables, chairs and works of art.

This is thanks to a program at MSU, appropriately titled MSU Shadows, which takes the wood from these and other trees that have reached the end of their lives and turns them into interesting and useful products.

The wood re-purposing program is a collaborative effort between the Department of Forestry, W.J. Beal Botanical Garden and Campus Arboretum, Landscape Services and several mid-Michigan artists.

“MSU loses around 300 trees a year to old age, disease and other factors,” said Dan Brown, a specialist in the Department of Forestry that heads up that unit’s role in the project. “Often that wood is chipped or landfilled. This provides a sustainable alternative.”

Brown said the wood is collected and then prepared for use by the artists and furniture makers.

“We have an on-campus sawmill and a kiln for drying the wood and we engage students in every step of the process,” he said. “Very few schools can offer such a hands-on experience in carrying out sustainability.”

Once the wood is prepared, it goes to the artists who turn it into a variety of items, including tables, chairs, picture and diploma frames, decorative wall hangings and even holiday tree ornaments.

The items are sold at the MSU Surplus Store and all proceeds go toward planting new trees on campus, student internships and further developing academic programs in urban forestry.

Brown said the project also is finding its way into forestry classrooms.

“We’ve incorporated the sawmill into several courses to give the students hands-on experience and training,” he said. “We are in the process of developing a course that covers a number of related issues concerned with urban forestry and sustainability, including why do the trees come down, sawing and preparing urban wood, and even marketing and sales.

“We hope to expand the program to encompass other academic programs, such as art. Beyond MSU, we envision this program serving as a model for other communities.”

Greening of the Great Lakes airs inside MSU Today Sunday afternoons at 4:00 on AM 870.

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