John Tolley, November 12, 2016

Ask nearly anyone at Michigan State University and they?ll tell you that theirs is not just a campus, but a campus park. According to Frank Telewski, curator of the school?s W.J. Beal Botanical Garden, it?s been that way since before the college opened its doors.

?Many of the trees that are growing here on the MSU campus actually pre-date the campus,? says Telewski, who is also a professor of plant biology. ?We have found trees that are potentially over 350 years old.?

Telewski notes that the trees of Michigan State represent more than a beautiful landscape; campus plant life is an important teaching and research tool for the college. In 2013 alone, over $10,000,000 in research, ranging from how insects utilize the flora to creating root rot resistant Cherry trees, utilized the trees and plants found on campus.

So when a tree needs to be removed due to disease, weather damage or to make way for construction, the university doesn?t just do so with care - they do it with the utmost reverence via the MSU Shadows program.

?Unfortunately, we lose about 300 trees a year here on campus,? says Dan Brown, coordinator for the Shadows program. ?When it?s time for those to come down, [landscape services] has the equipment and expertise to remove those safely. Then, with help from students, we mill and process all the lumber here on campus.?

The lumber is then transformed, by local artisans, into, as Telewski says, ?objects of beauty and usefulness.? From Adirondack chairs to dining tables to custom fountain pens, campus trees are given a second life as one-of-a-kind pieces of art. Those products are then sold through the MSU Surplus Store.

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Shadows-branded items are used to fund educational programs for students in MSU?s Department of Forestry. The Shadows program affords forestry students a chance to participate in the timbering process, from the felling of the trees to the milling and kilning of the timber.

?The program provides a great opportunity for students to get involved with hand-on learning about the properties of wood,? says Richard Kobe, chairperson of the MSU Department of Forestry. ?So many students are looking for a way to make a difference and contribute to sustainability. This program, it?s a great way that they can fulfill those goals.?

As Brown explains, sustainability has been a hallmark of the program from the outset, with the remaining portion of the proceeds from the sale of Shadows items going to campus reseeding and replanting efforts.

?We?re looping this whole thing around full circle,? says Brown. ?Before [Shadows], trees were chipped up for mulch or burned in our power plant. Now we?ve created products which Spartans can buy and then support planting more trees on campus. It?s a cradle to cradle process.?

To see more photos of the MSU Shadow's program in action, check out our previous post.