Jewel Rodgers doesn’t have to look far to see the problems, or the solution.
The community builder for the South of Downtown Community Development Organization knocks on doors in the Everett and Near South neighborhoods for a living, and she stands on front porches that feel like they’re falling in.
She sees people sitting near the curb on cast-off furniture. And when she looks down, she sees the trash. “The corner of 13th and F is so littered with cigarette butts it’s absolutely ridiculous,” she said.
But then she looks up, and she sees the thousands of trees that will fall prey to the advancing emerald ash borer. She thinks about all of that lumber, right there near all of the problems. Why not use it to make public benches? To build ashtrays and trash cans? To help homeowners repair sagging front porches?
So on Saturday, Rodgers and the nonprofit South of Downtown group will show the potential in the doomed trees, hosting a sawmill demonstration and inviting woodworkers to showcase their work.
“It would be absurd if we can’t use natural resources in our community as a solution,” she said. “One of the most important things about resiliency and community building is to realize the resources we have.”
Lincoln should have no shortage of resources: The city owns more than 14,000 ash trees, and officials have estimated up to 50,000 are on private property. The emerald ash borer could wipe most of them out, typically killing 75 percent or more of all ash trees within a decade after it arrives — and it arrived in Lincoln in August.
The city has already removed about 2,000 trees, and plans to remove and replace 1,000 annually.
It’s donating a half-dozen trees for the demonstration, which Kim Slezak will run through the trailer-mounted sawmill she bought last year.
“I was tired of seeing trees wasted around me and going to tree dumps,” said Slezak, a forestry consultant from Fillmore County who owns Trees2Products. ”Every tree was getting wasted.”
She’ll slice three trees in flat boards and three into quarter-sawn boards. That wood will need to dry, so it won’t be worked Saturday. Still, a handful of artists, designers and woodworkers will showcase the furniture, jewelry and other items the wood can yield.
Nol Golgert will bring lacrosse sticks he made from ash. The designer and woodworker will be the recipient of some of the wood milled Saturday, and it will help him spread the sport.
He was repairing a friend’s lacrosse stick when the idea struck him: He plans to build and give sticks to Lincoln lacrosse associations in return for them hosting clinics at community centers. And then he’ll build more sticks — he can make 200 to 350 shafts from a single tree — to donate to the centers.
He also plans to work with Rodgers and the South of Downtown group to turn the trees into public good, the benches and bus stops and ashtrays and garbage cans needed in some neighborhoods.
He sees poetry in the prospect of these condemned trees serving Lincoln’s future.
“It’s a hardwood. It’s a quality wood,” he said. “We could potentially make things for the community — objects, products — that not only benefit everyone right now, but also, long-term, has a story behind it.”