Have you ever noticed that massive wood pile when you drive southbound on I-83, between the Northern Parkway and Cold Spring Lane exits? That “wood dump,” if you will, is actually Baltimore’s Camp Small Zero Waste Initiative, a vital supply of home-grown timber, mulch and firewood logs for the city. And what’s more, those money-making logs are sitting atop some interesting Civil War history.
Before: A Baltimore City cost center
Baltimore is home to more than 125,000 street trees, in addition to forested areas. The Department of Recreation and Parks’ Forestry Division collects about 10,000 tons of wood waste each year. For the past 100 years or so, that waste has been taken to the Camp Small’s four-acre plot.
Until two years ago, Camp Small’s wood waste piles would grow so large that the debris had to be cleared out. That was an added cost to the city, as it had to pay contractors tens of thousands of dollars to haul away the waste that would eventually be either repurposed into wood chips or sent to the landfill.
Thankfully, some sharp minds at the Office of Sustainability and Baltimore City Recreation and Parks realized the city was sitting on an unrealized wealth resource. They envisioned that under the right management, those wood chip piles could be sold to residents and businesses; the chips could be used as mulch on Baltimore City properties; felled oak logs could be repurposed into no-cost building timber used for construction projects; and the Paul Bunyans of our area would happily split many of the logs collected by the Forestry Division into seasoned firewood for their homes.
The Zero Waste Initiative is born
With a $98,000 loan from the Baltimore Bureau of Budget and Management Research Innovation fund, the city created the Camp Small Zero Waste Initiative.
First on the to-do list was hiring Shaun Preston, Camp Small’s yard master. Preston had significant experience as an artist, a furniture manufacturer and a metal fabricator. He saw the value of the material piling up at Camp Small, and he had many contacts in the “world of wood.”
Most importantly, he’s also a patient guy.
“When I started at Camp Small two years ago, this wood storage facility was a mess,” Preston told Baltimore Fishbowl. “The biggest issue was getting rid of a football-sized pile of rotting wood chips.”
The camp is now buzzing with activity. The facility recently rented a huge deck-screener, which acts like a big strainer, that allowed the team to process and clean out a good chunk of the legacy wood chips and convert them into compost. Camp Small sold the end product to consumers and used it as mulch for city landscaping projects.
“Now that Camp Small is more cleared out, we have the room to separate out and manage the timber-ready, firewood and mulch logs and wood as it comes into the yard,” Preston said.
BGE recently cleared out 130 trees from behind Camp Small to make way for a new electrical substation. Instead of adding the cut trees to a pile of mixed wood and brush, the Forestry Division tagged theses tress and separated them out. A local sawmill turned those trees into construction timber that was used to build the new Cahill/Gwynns Falls Wellness and Fitness Center. Though reducing Baltimore’s tree canopy is never ideal, Camp Small’s leadership can now partially offset the environmental impact and ensure that downed trees will be repurposed for use within Baltimore City.
Preston has launched innovative programs for everyday residents, too. Under the Camp Small Woodhawks firewood program, for $60 a year, members can pick up to five cords worth of un-split firewood logs. For DIY-ers, the savings are significant, as delivered seasoned firewood can cost as much as $300 a cord.
Artists and wood workers also visit Camp Small to buy low-cost wood for their projects.
“It took dedication and vision from many in Baltimore City agencies to kick-off the Camp Small Zero Waste Initiative,” said Preston. “It’s a great program that benefits Baltimore city agencies, our local greening nonprofits, community initiatives, schools, private businesses, local artisans and residents. I love this job.”
Looking ahead, he hopes to expand Camp Small’s equipment arsenal so the city can process more wood products in-house, offer more services and keep piling up the savings.