Thursday, November 23, 2023

Milling Fallen Trees at Herrontown Woods

The Friends of Herrontown Woods is ten years old, and for a substantial portion of those years, we'd occasionally think, "Wouldn't it be nice to mill some of the fallen trees and use the milled lumber in the preserve." Why import lumber from distant forests when we can utilize local resources in a sustainable way? That idea remained just an idea until Victorino came along. 

Victorino is the chainsaw virtuoso who, in 2020 as the pandemic was prompting many people to explore Herrontown Woods for the first time, turned a fallen pine tree into a bridge in the Barden. 

He then built the arch that welcomes visitors. (Until I found this photo, I had forgotten that he built a model of the arch first, to show us his idea.) Those two installations made clear that the Botanical Art Garden could be more than a nice collection of native plants.

This year, when I mentioned the idea of building a boardwalk from the main parking lot up to the Veblen House, he offered to mill the lumber on-site. 

The first surprise was that even the red oak trees that had fallen in wind storms years before still had good wood in them. Most stay levitated above the ground, which helps reduce the chance of rot. 

Eschewing expensive machinery, Victorino uses the simple machines I learned about in 5th grade--things like levers that greatly multiply one's physical strength. 

Working with his assistant Wilbur, he cuts the trunks into 4 to 8 foot sections and snaps chalk lines on them to guide the cutting. 

The next surprise was that Victorino could cut beautiful boards without any framework other than his eye to guide the blade. No need for even the most basic sort of portable milling equipment. 
A few work sessions yielded a serious pile of beams and planks for a boardwalk. Though he used one of the countless ash trees being lost to the emerald ash borer, nearly all of this wood comes from fallen red oaks, white oaks, and the most rot-resistant of all: black locust. Astonishing to find that a big black locust that had been lying on the ground for ten or twenty years was still rock solid.

When I suggested we build a circular platform partway up the trail, Victorino came up with this design. 

One idea is to place interpretive signage around this circle to tell the story of Princeton's open space acquistion and care, which began with the Veblens back in the 1930s.

He even upgraded a bridge, utilizing boards he hewed from the local fallen trees. 

We love Victorino, and thank him for generously sharing his skill and creativity with us at Herrontown Woods.