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Finding creative uses for ash wood in Minnesota

The Minnesota Wood Innovation Team is a collaborative task force with representatives from academia, state agencies, NGOs, industry and landowners. They work to develop strategies and on-the-ground actions that will support the vitality of Minnesota’s forests.

One of the issues they are tackling is the economic and environmental threat of emerald ash borer (EAB). As EAB works its way through the Midwest, ash wood has become abundant. Currently the markets for ash are limited, but two of the team’s recent projects aim to change that by demonstrating innovative ways to use urban and ash wood.

A place to stash your wheels

The city of Rochester, Minnesota is growing quickly because of the Destination Medical Center initiative, and biking is a key component of Rochester’s long-term transportation plan. While attending a forestry conference in Freiberg, Germany, Extension educator (and Wood Innovation Team member) Angie Gupta admired the many green- and solar-roofed bike parking structures scattered generously throughout the city. 

It occurred to Angie that a bike shed would be a perfect use for a growing urban wood supply, and help meet the needs of her growing city. She worked with Rochester Community and Technical College (RCTC) horticulture professor Robin Fruth-Dugstad, who had long wanted to try a green roof for her students, to create an ash wood, green-roofed bike shed at RCTC. 

Volunteers with tools are helping to build a wooden bike shed
Volunteers from Extension, RCTC and the community of Rochester donated time and labor to build this wooden bike shed demonstration project.

The project proceeded with generous donations of thermally treated ash wood from Arbor Wood Co.; architectural design skills from CRW architecture + design, Inc; horticulture student and community volunteer labor; and an Extension-initiated crowdsourcing campaign that generated $1,045 from mostly local donations.

During the fall of 2018 (one year after the inspiring conference in Germany), the bike shed was built, and this past spring the green roof was installed!

Parklets for people

The second project developed about the same time with foresight and innovation from Grand Rounds Brewing owner Tessa Leung. Tessa is a creative and community-engaged local brewer with a restaurant in downtown Rochester’s Historic 3rd Street. She wanted to prototype a parklet (a deck-like sidewalk extension built over existing parking spaces) using urban ash wood removed because of EAB. 

Working with Angie Gupta, Rochester city forester Jeff Haberman, a few contractors in the emerging local wood industry, and funding from Extension’s Southeast Regional Sustainable Development Partnership, Tessa got permission from the city council and installed Rochester’s first parklet this summer. The parklet is made almost entirely from ash wood removed from Rochester due to EAB. 

A wooden deck built over existing street parking becomes a parklet.
This new parklet is a wooden deck that was built using almost entirely all local wood felled due to emerald ash borer.

These projects may be small in physical size but they’re big in collaboration, community engagement, inspiration, and dedication. They are tangible steps in Extension’s efforts to increase and innovate local wood markets. And a special thanks to all those at RCTC and the Rochester City Council for their support of these innovative projects!

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