The spillover parking lot for the Foellinger Theatre is a great place to hide things in the dead of winter.
Unless you live on the west end of a little road called Mildred Avenue, you can’t really tell what’s going on in the big gravel field.
Take a stroll down Mildred, though, and you’re in for a surprise. A massive stretch of huge dead tree trunks jam the field. Tree trunks up to 20 feet long – some as large as 36 inches in diameter – are lined up.
One line of the huge trees is 200 yards long and at least 15 yards wide, while a shorter pile of dead trees lines the other side of the field.
And they’re all ash trees.
That the trees are ash shouldn’t surprise anyone. For the past several years the city and state agencies around the Midwest have been cutting down ash trees killed by or dying from the emerald ash borer.
Last year, the city agreed to pay a contractor $1.1 million to remove dead or dying ash trees. So far, they’ve cut down about 2,000 of them and another 2,500 are yet to be removed. Once that contractor’s work is done, there will be another 3,000 dead ash trees that still need to be removed from city-owned land.
The pile behind Mildred Avenue represents another installment.
What’s surprising is that the trees are being stored in the middle of the city, dumped off in large truckloads five to 10 times a day, according to residents along Mildred Avenue.
From the beginning of the emerald ash borer crisis, workers have been turning entire ash trees into mulch. The mulch would then be hauled off and burned in an effort to halt the spread of the ash borer, which is believed to have come to the United States on wooden pallets from China.
People were warned not to bring ash firewood into camping areas because it could contain the ash borer and spread the insect.
Lumber companies had no interest in taking logs made of the ash. It could spread the insect.
So what are all these gigantic dead trees doing lined up in the parking lot in the middle of the city? Were they not supposed to be ground up and burned, too?
It appears, in essence, the effort to contain the spread of the ash borer has been abandoned.
The area is infested, and trying to stop the spread is futile. Logs, mulch and firewood can’t be taken to areas that aren’t infested, but in these parts, it’s a lost cause.
According to the parks department, contractors have ground the limbs into mulch, which, instead of being burned, people can use in their gardens.
Meanwhile, Graber Lumber, which is based in Allen County, is taking some of the logs that are still strong (the wood decomposes quickly) and milling them into usable lumber.
The ash trees aren’t worth much. The market is flooded, said Brad Tinkle, the city’s arborist, and the price of ash has plummeted. But the deal with Graber is saving the city some money and Graber is getting usable lumber out of the pile. So far the company has hauled away about 50 semi-loads of logs.
By May, the parking lot at Foellinger will be empty and cleaned up. Residents on Mildred will get to look at lines of cars instead of giant logs, and the city will be looking for a similar field on the south side to stash the thousands of additional trees that will eventually have to come down in that area.