A large limb that was ripped off a cottonwood tree during a storm earlier this summer came to rest in Duck Creek near Davenport's Hillandale Road.

In past years, the 8-foot limb might simply have been removed and taken to the city's compost facility where it would have been ground into mulch.

But Chris Johnson, the city arborist/forestry manager who came on-board three years ago, had a different idea.

Why not carve the limb flat and re-purpose it as a bench along the city's recreational trail so people would have a place to sit and enjoy the view?

This reuse is one of many examples of Johnson's "wood utilization" program. He also has had downed cherry trees cut into boards that he has sold for $500 in the public works booth at the Freight House Farmers Market.

And on rainy days when his crew can't work outside, they've built benches that also are sold at the market. Prices range from $150 to $300, depending on the size of the bench and the type of wood, he said.

This is all a way to give a higher use than mulch to some great city trees, including oak and black walnut, that come down in storms or have to be removed because they are a safety hazard.

"This wood is just great," Johnson said.

His crew also has made a bench for a city bus stop near 2nd and Gaines streets that didn't have seating, and they have plans to make another for a stop along Pershing Avenue. The benches are sealed and have metal tubing on the bottom so they are off the concrete.

Johnson got the bench idea at Chicago's Field Museum, where he saw similar seating arrangements.

But the overall concept of wood reutilization "is no means my idea," he said. "It's a growing trend and it's coming from the East. It stemmed from the emerald ash borer."

The ash borer is killing millions of trees that need to be disposed of. But because ash is a quality wood, portable sawmills have begun popping up to make useful products out of it rather than simply burning it, as has been done in some places, Johnson said.

His forestry crew is happy with their new task of making benches. "You can sharpen saws and clean up the shop only so long," John Vance said. "And I always hated throwing this wood away."

Johnson's boss is happy, too. "This was his great idea and he is running with it," said Mike Clarke, Davenport's public works director.

The boards that Johnson sold at the farmers market were cut by an Eldridge contractor who has a portable sawmill.

The booth at the market is staffed from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays with rotating programs. Sept. 14 is the next time Johnson will be at the market with the wood products.

(1) comment


Now this is a great example for once of someone in the public works department looking at something that used to waste a valuable resource, and then using that resource to better serve the community. A tip of my hat to you sir. Selling the boards from a mature cherry tree to generate revenue is also a great idea. The urban areas of the Quad Cities is full of mature trees of highly desirable species that are used to make quality high end furniture or other construction uses. When it is time for these trees to be removed for various reasons by the city, why not take advantage of them instead of grinding them down into mulch? If operating a program like that can be done at not only no charge to the community, but also generate revenue for the parks department, I say why not? An example of one end user customer for high quality hardwoods would be the furniture shop at the Amana Colonies.

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