Giving new life to historic trees

The Carolina Tree Heritage program is giving second life to downed campus trees by transforming the trunks and branches into furniture, sculptures and other wooden creations, with the proceeds going toward student scholarships.

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When poor health led to the demise and felling of a giant post oak near Old West two years ago, it would have been easy to think that the tree’s 240-year tenure on Carolina’s campus was over.

But thanks to the Carolina Tree Heritage program, the old oak tree will continue to serve the community for centuries to come.

“When [campus trees] fall down, either due to natural reasons — maybe a big thunderstorm and windstorm — or [felled] because they’re a safety hazard, we take that wood, and we turn it into its next legacy,” said Susan Cohen, the associate director of the UNC Institute for the Environment, which has partnered with Carolina’s Facilities Services along with other groups to launch the program.

That next legacy involves transforming the trunks and branches of the trees into furniture, sculptures and other wooden creations. The proceeds from selling the pieces will help fund student scholarships. Some of the wood will also be used to make benches and other items for the campus. Pieces that are too small for making furniture will be given to Carolina’s BeAM makerspaces for future projects.

“Wood is meant to build things with,” said Michael Everhardt ’13, ’19 (MCRP), a woodworker and environmental planner who helped create the Carolina Tree Heritage program as a graduate student. “Knowing that this wood is going to have a second life and might be around for another 240 years is very, very, very cool.”