Weathering the Storm

Dunes Bible Camp in Ocean Park, Wash.

By Jeff Mullins

hen dark clouds bring strong winds that leave behind a tangled mess of branches and trunks where mature trees once towered in forested, park-like settings, it may be difficult to see the proverbial silver lining. At the Dunes Bible Camp on Washington's Long Beach Peninsula, the "silver lining" was found in the color orange, the hue sported by the new thin kerf sawmill camp staff utilizes to convert storm-downed trees into high-quality lumber.

Today, according to camp director, Steve Holmes, "Instead of just having a big mess to clean up, we now see storm-downed trees as a natural resource with much potential value. The sawmill enables us to realize that value and, in doing so, both saves us money and results in positive environmental contributions to our community."

By way of example, Holmes points to a winter storm that wreaked havoc at the facility in early 2007. More than 60 trees were toppled on a 20-acre forested recreation facility operated as part of the camp. Until recently, the time, effort and expense for cleanup would, at best, have netted the campground an excessively large volume of firewood. Today, the Dunes is utilizing the new sawmill to convert the downed trees into usable lumber for facility improvements, and an event that once might have been an expensive disaster now represents an opportunity.

Operated by camp staff, the sawmill is a Wood-Mizer LT40 thin kerf (kerf is the thickness of the cut a blade makes as it passes through the wood) portable sawmill. The mill can easily be towed to the side of a downed tree and set up in a few moments. Then one or two people can process lumber from the fallen stem. The mill utilizes an ultra-thin band that produces smooth and consistent lumber from logs as large as 3 feet in diameter and over 20 feet long. "The mill's lumber scale makes it very easy to consistently cut dimensional boards," Holmes said.

As a bible camp, the Dunes strives to provide a fun and rustic setting conducive to physical, mental and spiritual growth. On the Pacific Coast 15 beachfront acres offer a year-round camping experience for up to 400 campers. A heavily forested 20-acre site at nearby Loomis Lake currently provides "fair weather" tent sites, RV hookups, restrooms and a general purpose building. Holmes anticipates lumber from downed trees will soon be used to construct facilities at Loomis Lake suitable to keep 100 campers out of the frequent Pacific Northwest rains.

Initial projects made more affordable—and, thus, possible—because of the sawmill will include the sheathing of existing buildings, the construction of eight cabins and the building of a dining hall. "The mill will become an ongoing management tool as trees are periodically removed for safety, aesthetics, development and forest enhancement," Holmes said. "We are now able to recycle downed trees into camp structures."

Jess Wooliscroft, caretaker at the Loomis Lake site, brings more than 25 years of timber industry experience to the Dunes' new sawmilling venture. "With the sawmill, we can proactively manage the park-like campground knowing we are optimizing use of the trees," he said. "It is gratifying to take a tree, make lumber and realize tangible camp facility improvements."

"Every time I put a log on the mill and begin to saw, I am amazed at how easy it is to run and the quality of the boards produced," Holmes added. "Hydraulic lifting and turning arms position logs from the control panel making it easy for me to produce lumber even though I have had back problems in the past. I was also impressed by how easy it is for even relatively inexperienced people to learn to use the mill safely."

Holmes anticipates that the savings realized by the camp will be significant as new construction and remodeling projects are completed. "I recently had to buy some trim boards for a door and paid over $100," he said. "Now we can produce our own lumber from our own logs at a fraction the cost."

Beyond satisfaction gained from saving money and producing lumber from these trees, Holmes said the mill is providing positive environmental contributions. "By making lumber from trees that would otherwise be wasted, the need for materials is met without harvesting healthy forests," he explained. Trees that are left standing continue to scrub carbon from the atmosphere, and carbon that would have been released through burning or decay is sequestered (locked) in a durable wood product. The positive contribution is even greater since the thin blades produce more lumber and less sawdust from each log milled.

Portable sawmilling is opening other potential opportunities for the campground. Local residents have inquired about donating logs to the camp for conversion into lumber for camp projects or to be sold to generate revenue for the camp operations. Holmes also anticipates a demand for custom sawing as word about the mill gets around.

"Our mission is to provide a unique setting where people can relax and reflect spiritually," Holmes said. "The mill has become an important tool to this end. We have trees that must be removed, so we are trying to be wise stewards of both the natural resources and of the finances available. Making lumber is the best use of these downed trees. It is saving us money and allowing construction of upgraded facilities sooner. The added bonus is that we are also making a positive contribution to the environment in the process."

Holmes said the camp recently purchased a planer/moulder to get more value from the lumber being sawn by producing wood products such as flooring, siding and trim. That's because, he noted, in addition to new construction projects, the camp has an ongoing need for lumber for repairs and remodels.

By improving facilities at the Loomis Lake site, more of the campground will be usable by more campers for more months each year. That means the campground's sawmill really is the silver lining in the dark clouds that left behind so many downed trees.


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