Editorial: Wood bank’s catching fire — and warming hearts

  • Cords of wood are stacked for storage on Dec. 8 on Sandy Lane in Montague. Staff Photo/Dan Little

Published: 12/19/2018 9:39:18 PM
Modified: 12/19/2018 9:39:26 PM

An adage often repeated this time of year is that wood warms twice: once in the cutting and later in the burning. There are many variations on the theme often heard here in rural New England, where so many of us do burn wood for heat and many of us still cut, split and stack it in the fall against next winter’s cold, for as Henry David Thoreau is often quoted as saying, “Every man looks upon his wood pile with a sort of affection.”

The other thing we see lots of in the small towns of Franklin County and the North Quabbin is volunteerism and generosity, and recently we’ve seen the two things come together in the form of wood banks.

Around here, it started in Athol about three years ago when that town’s tree warden, Travis Knetchel, made the idea a reality for the needy in his community.

The Athol Community Wood Bank provides heat to residents in need by converting dead and declining trees into firewood. Since 2015, volunteers at the wood bank have provided at least 200 hours of service, processing cordwood and have distributed 15 cords of dry wood to households in need.

The town takes applications for free loads of wood much like the Community Action fuel assistance program provides emergency oil and gas shipments in winter. The town harvests the trees and coordinates volunteer work bees that cut, split and stack the wood to dry. The following year, the cordwood is distributed in half cord allotments. Volunteers have come from local residents and even college students from Amherst.

Now, Montague is following Athol’s lead.

Created this year as a joint effort of the town, Montague Tree Advisory Committee, the tree warden, the town Department of Public Works, other municipal departments and volunteers, it too functions like a food bank.

Sean Mohoney, a member of Montague’s Tree Advisory Committee, said he proposed the Wood Bank, a program promoted by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, where he works.

The purpose of the wood bank is threefold: to provide access to heating assistance, to reduce town waste via recycling trees into firewood and to build community through volunteer action.

Town Administrator Steve Ellis said there are a lot of people in need — particularly, the town’s senior residents, so at least half of the wood harvested will be allocated for those 62 and older.

“We have residents that really need this resource, and its value is significant,” said Ellis.

There is currently about two cords of wood stacked at the Wood Bank, but there are enough raw materials for seven cords. If it can be cut and split to dry, it will be usable starting next winter.

To that end, the Tree Advisory Committee could use more volunteers, especially for an upcoming work bee Dec. 29. The committee hopes to host a volunteer day once a month. We urge anyone with an urge to get outside for exercise to join in.

“It’s been very gratifying to have the community support the wood bank,” committee Chairman David Detmold told The Recorder.

So, there may be a third way wood can warm, it turns out, and it has to do with volunteerism. Because as corny as it sounds, when you volunteer to do something for a neighbor, known or unknown, it does warm the heart.

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