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Arbor Aid boosts efforts to replant trees in Pittsburgh

| Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010

The concept of the "urban forest," at first, seems inherently contradictory. But if you walk down a tree-lined street in even the most built-up neighborhoods, you're in the forest.

For the Friends of the Pittsburgh Urban Forest, these trees are a valuable resource, and not nearly as plentiful as they appear from a distance.

"A lot of people look at Pittsburgh and think it's so green and full of trees because of our hillsides and parks," says Caitlin Lenahan, outreach and education coordinator for the organization. "But the number of trees on our streets is much lower than it should be. We want them right near our homes and businesses."

To support their mission of planting, protecting and maintaining Pittsburgh's trees, the Friends will be hosting their annual Arbor Aid fundraiser Oct. 29 on the top floor of Guardian Storage Solutions in the Strip District. This event showcases the creativity of more than 50 local artists and skilled artisans, working with salvaged wood.

Aside from their natural beauty, trees have a host of lesser-known benefits, some particularly beneficial to Pittsburgh.

"They also take in water during rain events," Lenahan says. "Pittsburgh has a serious combined sewer overflow problem. When there's too much stormwater going into the sewer system, it goes right into the river with all our sewage and garbage. Trees can take up a lot of stormwater when it rains, and slow that down.

"Pittsburgh has a big particulate matter air-quality problem. Trees intercept some of that particulate matter and keep it from getting into our lungs," Lenahan says.

Trees also shade houses and lower energy bills.

Working with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy's Treevitalize program, Friends of the Pittsburgh Urban Forest wants to add 20,000 new trees to Pittsburgh's cityscape. So far, they've planted about 6,000, Lenahan says.

Friends of the Pittsburgh Urban Forest trains local volunteers to be Tree Tenders for their neighborhood.

Even after trees die and are chopped down and hauled away, many of Pittsburgh's street trees find a purpose at the Urban Tree Forge.

This artist-run manufacturer in Lincoln-Lemington turns "salvaged" trees into beautiful pieces of furniture — benches, chairs, beds and more. Not coincidentally, some of Urban Tree Forge's woodworkers and their creations will be on display at Arbor Aid on Friday.

The passion and skill of Urban Tree Forge's founder, the late John Metzler, were the driving force behind the previous Arbor Aid events. He even created tables for world leaders to use at the G-20 summit.

Metzler died in May when a passing U-Haul trailer was jarred loose by a pothole, and struck him outside the studio.

After some introspection, it was decided to keep Urban Tree Forge going in his memory.

"We re-organized," says John Eastman, of Urban Tree Forge. "And have continued the business, and grown it, in fact. There are projects from building furniture — coffee tables, end tables, dining room tables — to more sculpture-related projects, to what I wouldn't quite call production, but producing items we've designed, like log benches, in quantities."

Urban Tree Forge uses "salvaged" wood from local sources.

"Someone calls us, someone with a tree coming down — whether it came down in a storm, or it's coming down for security reasons," Eastman says. "They understand there's a higher calling for this tree. We are in great, great debt to people who understand this. They'll call us and say, 'We want to give it to you, and we want you to do something special with it.'"

At Arbor Aid, Eastman is particularly enthusiastic about a certain Urban Tree Forge project designed and built by artist Jason Boone.

"There's a spectacular double bunk bed made out of locust tree posts — a forest bed," Eastman says. "It will be a show-stopper."

Arbor Aid will showcase art and furniture constructed from re-purposed wood of all kinds, from shipping pallets to a lamp made from old bowling pins.

There also will be live music by the Mon City Ramblers and cellist Gordon Kirkwood, food and drinks, and an artists market.

Then there's that name. Everybody seems to realize that Friends of the Pittsburgh Urban Forest is a bit awkward. Its initials — FPUF — aren't much better.

So the nonprofit has decided to announce its new name and logo at Arbor Aid.

Additional Information:

Arbor Aid

What: Fundraiser for Friends of the Pittsburgh Urban Forest

When: 7-11 p.m. Oct. 29

Admission: $25-$30

Where: Guardian Storage Solutions, 2839 Liberty Ave., Strip District

Details: 412-362-6360

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