SPLIT FIREWOOD in East Orrington.

SPLIT FIREWOOD in East Orrington.

BELFAST

It’s hard to keep a good idea under wraps.

Maybe that’s why the Waldo County Woodshed, a nonprofit started by a group of local people who want to provide firewood to lowincome and fixed-income folks, is starting to catch on like wildfire.

“Everything is happening at once,” Coleen Marsh, the secretary of the Belfast-based organization, said recently. “Obviously, there’s a lot of need, because we’ve gotten a lot of requests.”

It all began when Bob MacGregor, the owner of the Out of the Woods gift store in Belfast, read an op-ed in the Bangor Daily News last November about local wood banks.

The op-ed statement

“Imagine a local food pantry or food bank. Replace the focus of food with firewood, and you have a center known as a wood bank,” said Sabrina Vivian, a University of Maine senior studying ecology and environmental sciences, and Jessica Leahy, an associate professor in the University of Maine School of Forest Resources, in the op-ed. “Like food pantries, wood banks aim to help community members with life essentials by supplying firewood at little to no cost to those in need who rely on firewood as a heating source.”

But by autumn, Vivian and Leahy had only been able to locate fewer than a dozen active wood banks in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, with only one known to be consistently active in Maine. That’s despite the fact that Maine is the most heavily forested state in the nation, with 90 percent covered by trees, Vivian and Leahy said. Maine also has the second highest per-capita reliance on wood as a primary heating source.

“Before I finished the article, I was already wondering how quickly I could organize a wood bank in Waldo County,” MacGregor said in an email. “It’s one of those times you wonder, ‘that’s such a great idea — why haven’t we already done this?’” Facebook and invited people to join the group. Soon after, he said, the group held its first meeting “on a bitterly cold night” and figured out how to get started. The group would solicit donations of money and cut, split firewood, and it also was in touch with Warm Waldo, a Thorndike-based group that collects donations to buy heating oil for people in need of help.

Donations received

The Waldo County Woodshed has received donations of about $1,100 within the last two weeks, including a $750 donation from Bangor Savings Bank. The group purchased three cords of seasoned wood and almost immediately got its first referral through Warm Waldo.

That four-year-old nonprofit aims to give 100 gallons of fuel to people in need, and so far this winter has helped 29 families.

“No one should have to choose between their health and heat,” Warm Waldo founder Tanya Hubbard said. “I commend the group organizing the woodshed project … any help that can help folks with their heating needs is very worthy work. Warm Waldo will be happy to refer people to the project.”

The first referral, a family group, came to see Dawn Caswell of the Waldo County Woodshed.

“You could tell they needed it,” she said.

She believes the family with two young daughters recently relocated to Waldo County and was not adequately prepared for the cold weather. They got their cord of wood on the day after the big blizzard, digging it out of the snow in order to take it home.

“If you’re on tough times and you don’t have a wood lot right there, it does affect you,” Caswell said. “It was really satisfying to see them come get the wood. It’s just really great to see that we can help.”

Jimmy Robbins of Robbins Lumber in Searsmont is letting the Waldo County Woodshed use some company land to store the wood. For the moment, the group plans to use already-processed firewood and is not seeking unprocessed logs. Robbins, who works with a Boy Scout troop in Searsmont to split and deliver firewood every year to local families who need some help, said that the new wood bank is a good thing for Waldo County.

‘A need for it’

“I know there’s a need for it, and it’s a way we can give back to the community,” he said. “It can grow to be something really big. I hope it does, I really do. I’d rather see something like this succeed at a grassroots level, versus giving money to a national organization.”

But Paul Hansen of Bucksport, who is trying to start a wood bank in his community, said that it hasn’t been a simple, easy process, and he is discouraged.

“I’m having some big difficulties right now,” Hansen said in a telephone interview.

He said Bucksport is requiring him to get an insurance policy and sign a lease before he can use a parcel of land at the transfer station to process and store the firewood.

“Obviously, we don’t have money for any of that. It’s strictly voluntary,” Hansen said. “I’m so disappointed. It’s such a good program.… The town has come up with too many unnecessary requirements.”

Bucksport Mayor David Keene said that while the town council thinks Hansen’s wood bank is a great idea, when it checked with its attorneys and insurance company, the council learned that there were stipulations on the use of town land for such a venture. Namely, Bucksport would be responsible if someone was hurt processing the firewood at the town’s transfer station.

“It’s a wonderful idea, but in today’s society, where everybody is sue-happy, the town has to protect itself,” Keene said. “I know (Hansen’s) frustrated as heck. It’s sad that it’s come to that, but we have to protect all the people of the town from a lawsuit.”

Leahy said that such practical difficulties are common as communities figure out how to organize their own wood banks — including figuring out the liabilities and legalities.

“Each one has to be grassroots, to fit the need of the community,” she said.

Since writing the November op-ed, she and Vivian have learned about some other wood banks in Maine, including Vets Helping Vets in Camden and the Boothbay Woodchucks in Boothbay, an all-volunteer program run by retirees.

“The more the idea spreads, the more the communities can be proactive,” she said. “It’s people being self-sufficient, spending time together and helping each other.”

In Waldo County, MacGregor said he hopes that the Woodshed project can get 100 cords stacked and dried this year to be ready to donate next winter. In the long term, he would like the group to be able to buy treelength wood and have it processed by Robbins Lumber in Searsmont, “so we can do more with the money we raise.” In the short term, the group is seeking donations of wood and money to buy wood.

“We’d love to get every town in the county on board if possible,” he said.

For information about the Waldo County Woodshed, visit www.waldocountywoodshed.org or call 338- 2692.

FOR MORE, see the Bangor Daily News at www.bangordailynews.com

Not many wood banks

BUT BY AUTUMN, Sabrina Vivian and Jessica Leahy had only been able to locate fewer than a dozen active wood banks in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, with only one known to be consistently active in Maine. That’s despite the fact that Maine is the most heavily forested state in the nation, with 90 percent covered by trees, Vivian and Leahy said. Maine also has the second highest per-capita reliance on wood as a primary heating source.


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