What if we could turn a local, environmental challenge into art and social change?

Apprentice nametags courtesy of @bouldertreeopp's Instagram account!

Apprentice nametags courtesy of @bouldertreeopp's Instagram account!

“Tree Debris to Opportunity” (aka #TreeOpp) is doing just that.

Earlier this year the City of Boulder, Bridge House and BLDG 61 Makerspace (located in the Boulder Main Library) were awarded a grant from the Knight Cities Foundation to help carry out their vision.

Currently, Boulder is facing two major challenges: homelessness and massive canopy loss due to the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB). #TreeOpp is transforming these challenges into opportunities.

Because of #TreeOpp & the Knight Cities Foundation, eight folks participating in Bridge House’s Ready to Work program will be completing a 3-month long apprenticeship under the masterful guidance of BLDG 61 Makerspace woodworking instructors where they will turn EAB-infested wood into furniture, crafts and other products that can be purchased by the community.

When we say "massive canopy loss" we aren't kidding. Ash trees make up ~15 percent of Boulder's urban canopy (all of the orange dots on the below map)—and every single one of these trees is slotted to be cut down. 


Not-so-fun fact: Boulder's not alone—EAB has been responsible for the death or decline of more than 50 million Ash trees since the 90's.

Orange marks Boulder's Ash trees.

Orange marks Boulder's Ash trees.

What's more, the wood cannot be exported elsewhere because of it's federally quarantined status. Normally, this would mean that the contaminated trees would be chopped and sent to a landfill, but the #TreeOpp program is transforming what would be considered "trash" into something that can live happily in your home.

Because of the way a local tree miller cuts and dries the wood, all traces of EAB are removed and the wood no longer poses a threat.

The Bridge House's Ready to Work program helps folks transition out of homelessness by providing paid jobs, vocational training and support services for those who are re-entering the workforce. The eight Bridge House apprentices will hone their woodworking skills, and help teach courses open to the public starting in December. This apprenticeship will help the Ready to Work folks be more marketable as they go out into the community applying for more long-term jobs. You can read some of their stories here.

You can follow #TreeOpp on Instagram @BoulderTreeOpp, and sign up for their first public woodworking classes at BLDG 61 on Nov. 26 and 27 (stay tuned for sign-up availability here). For more information about the program, visit their website here and blog here.

There will be another opportunity to help create at McGuckin Hardware between 11 am and 2 pm on Saturday, Nov. 5. The volunteer-created decorations will be displayed in the Civic Area throughout the holiday season. Register for one of the hour-long crafting sessions here or drop-in between 11 am and 2 pm to help make a garland.

Written by: Emma Ruffin with thanks to Margo Josephs for all the info!