Lemonade Out of Lemons, Habitat Out of Trees

Sarah Kern | September 18, 2023
All ages and stages enjoy building an owl box!

Building an owl box together at Creek Farm from white pine. (Photo: Sarah Kern)

After Eversource cut down 40 pine trees along Little Harbor Road a few years ago due to safety concerns, the Forest Society's Creek Farm staff went to work by turning the trees into habitat and the process into educational opportunities for the community.

In the urban city of Portsmouth, the harvesting of the trees was of deep concern to many community members. Trees here are fewer and further between than elsewhere in New Hampshire and can hold immense emotional value for the city's residents.  In the city ,you don’t often see a chainsaw, chainsaw chaps, or a neighbor doing tree work. The practice of “forestry” is less understood and familiar.

Milling the Little Harbor Road White Pines at Creek Farm
Milling at Creek Farm turned the trees into boards. (Photo: Sarah Kern)

The harvesting of white pine trees at Creek Farm was a perfect opportunity to educate folks about the lifecycle of a tree and the process of a tree being repurposed and used for myriad of beneficial projects.  

Team Leopold Bench
The team that built the benches worked hard together. (Photo: Sarah Kern)

With the expert assistance of our colleague AJ Dupere, a renowned Urban Forester from the Urban Forestry Center who had purchased a traveling mill for this very reason a number of years ago, we were able to set up the mill at Creek Farm and mill the trees. 

Community Owl Box Building
Some of the white pine boards were used to construct box houses for owls. (Photo: Sarah Kern)

And we milled, and we milled, and we milled… finally, 2 years later, we just milled the last one. Why mill the trees into lumber right at Creek Farm? The reactions of our community members said it all.  Volunteers came in and helped mill the trees, experiencing the weight, size, and humbling mass.  AJ described to the volunteers and participants exactly what he is doing and why. These trees were dying and starting to rot and would never have been put on a commercial saw mill – sort of like how an ugly tomato won’t make it to the grocery store shelf. 

Whoooo had fun meeting an owl?
Whoooo had fun meeting an owl? (Photo: Sarah Kern)

To watch visitors approach the ever shrinking pile of trees and the freshly milled lumber was interesting as well. Many took photos and many just reached out and touched the tree.  Visitors commented on the wonderful smell of the pine sawdust. 

We made a pile of free scrap lumber and community members took advantage of wood for their own use.  Our last two programs using the lumber from these trees happened this past weekend, a Leopold Bench Building Program and a Live Owl and Owl Box Make and Take Program. For our bench builds, we created beautiful Leopold Benches based off of a design from Naturalist Aldo Leopold. 

Happy with the finished product and program!
Happy with the finished product and program! (Photo: Sarah Kern)

For our Owl Meet and Greet and Owl Box make and take, guests were able to meet a barred owl up close and in person from our colleagues at Tailwinds: Raptor Education and Conservation before building their own owl boxes. We discussed all the ways we can help our wild neighbors, from conserving land to not using rodenticide. From a young visitor, “This is EPIC.”  As she and her sister left with their grandparents, with an owl house each, the smiles said it all.  We kept some owl boxes to place at Creek Farm and some went home with participants. A great time was had by all. 

Double the fun!
Children and adults enjoyed learning about and helping owls by building owl boxes.

So what have we made with these “ugly and useless” trees? A Storybook Walk, bat houses, bird houses, owl boxes, siding for the new bathrooms, raised beds, planters for a project with the Monarch School, Leopold Benches, a tree cookie to track history of the White Pine and Creek Farm, Giant Jenga and lawn dice for activities, and most importantly, connections and memories!

For more information on upcoming programming at Creek Farm please visit our events page and we look forward to seeing you!

Building together
Another successful project completed!