Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance gives ash trees new life

HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) — In early 2018, roughly 90 trees were removed in Harrisonburg that were damaged by the Emerald Ash Borer Beetle. Though the city's Urban Wood Program, Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance has repurposed those trees to give them new life as conference tables.

The trees only traveled about five miles from the time they were cut down until they came to their final resting place.

According to Joe Lehnen, the Urban Wood Program Coordinator for the Virginia Department of Forestry, Harrisonburg started their program two years ago.

"Harrisonburg is very innovative, very progressive. They have probably one of the best wood programs in the state," said Lehnen.

Jeremy Harold, superintendent of parks for Harrisonburg, said it was important to the city to make better use of these trees that had to come down.

"The responsible thing to do is use this wood rather than chunking it up into firewood or throwing it into a landfill," said Harold.

Andrea Dono, the executive director for HDR, said the original plan was to use reclaimed wood. The owner of Knoched VA, Brad Wroelewski, said when he went to get the reclaimed wood, they were out of it, which is when he found out that the wood from the ash tree was available.

"It's been really great to be a model for that for others to look into doing for themselves," said Dono.

Ash trees, which have been under threat from the emerald ash borer throughout the Shenandoah Valley in recent years, make up about 20 percent of all trees in Harrisonburg's parks. The infected trees that were removed were replaced with a variety of native species.

The removed trees were made into lumber at a local mill and then crafted into the table in Harrisonburg.

"To come full circle and really only travel five miles is just really fantastic," said Wroelewski.

"We're all just a few miles from each other so it fits with our mission perfectly," said Dono.

A picture hangs on the wall in the office of the tree before it was cut down at Heritage Oaks Golf Course.

"It tells the story of the tree," said Harold.

"You can go to a big box store and not think twice about where you're getting the lumber from, but here it has a story," said Wroelewski.

The tables are the first items made from the wood, but the city's goal is to continue repurposing it as there are more trees to come down.

"The fact that the tree can live on even after it has had its biological life is very important to us," said Lehnen.

Wood can be purchased through an auction.

The Emerald Ash Borer moves from tree to tree attacking the trunk of ash trees, and it can kill a tree in just one year.

The insect’s larvae feed on the inner bark of ash trees, which disrupts the tree’s ability to transport water and nutrients. Once the larvae are adults, they will fly to another ash tree to lay their eggs, thus repeating the cycle.

The good news is there are preventative measures you can take to protect ash trees and it's even possible to save some ash trees that have already been affected, so if you have any ash trees on your property, you should get it treated as soon as possible. You can call the Virginia Department of Forestry to come take a look.