CHATSWORTH, N.J. (AP) William S. Haines Jr. knew what he wanted to do when he saw hundreds of Atlantic white cedars blown down by megastorm Sandy on his land in southern New Jersey.
He decided he would restore the forest by selling the highly sought-after wood and turn a negative into a positive. But Haines then learned of another restoration effort by an organization that uses wood to build young lives — and decided to donate cedar trees to the cause.
The Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory, an educational nonprofit in the city’s Frankford section, teaches boatbuilding classes to underperforming and economically disadvantaged high school students to help them develop problem-solving skills and character.
"This is a great project for those who don’t have the same opportunities that we’ve had," said Haines, who oversees the largest cranberry operation in New Jersey and one of the top five in the country. "This seemed like an easy thing to do."
Haines told The Philadelphia Inquirer that he’s supplying logs while others — a certified forester, logger, and mill owner — are offering their time and labor to deliver the lightweight, rot-resistant cedar for sailboat construction. The trees are increasingly rare and valuable.
"We’re making the best out of the situation," said certified forester Bob Williams, vice president of forestry operations at Land Dimensions Engineering in Glassboro, who manages Haines’ 12,000 acres of forest in Chatsworth. "We’re on a mission to bring back the Atlantic white cedars."
"The use of the wood for boats is a link to our cultural and historical heritage," he said. "People have been building boats with these trees since the day the colonists arrived, and there is no reason why we can’t continue to do this for generations to come."
The forest damage offered opportunities for Brett Hart, executive director of the Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory, located in an industrial building in the 4500 block of Worth Street.
He saw an Inquirer article about the reclamation efforts and contacted Williams, asking him about the wood’s availability. Though no statewide inventory of Sandy’s cedar damage exists, thousands of acres of trees were knocked down, leaving much to be harvested, Williams said.
"It’s difficult to get this wood, so I jumped on it right away," Hart said. "I was really excited."
Atlantic white cedars once covered about 500,000 acres along the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico during colonial times. By some estimates, they now may occupy only about 50,000 acres, with much of them in New Jersey and North Carolina’s and Virginia’s Great Dismal Swamp.
In an e-mail to Williams, Hart wrote: ". . . The wood will be used to create a fleet of wooden sailboats that will be raced by teenagers on the northern Delaware for decades to come. We are building three this year and hope to have 10 to 15 in the next four to five years."
Twenty-four students aged 13 to 17 have been working on three 14-ft.-long sailboats using wood brought in from northern Maine at a cost of $4,400, including the shipping. But they need more cedar for other boats.
"It’s about getting students involved in something where they will have some success and build a sense of confidence and competency," Hart said.
Last summer, students built three 14-ft. rowboats that will be used in a river-guide program that monitors the region’s watershed. The effort is funded by a $45,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
"It’s fabulous using locally grown wood from a responsibly managed forest," Hart said. "Our last shipment from Maine was a year and a half ago, and we’ll be needing more wood soon."
The logs from Haines’ forest are being retrieved by Colin McLaughlin, head of operations for Advanced Forestry Solutions of Pittsgrove. He said he’ll give them at least 20 logs — about 1,000 board feet.
"Life is a circle," he said. "If you can help somebody out, you help them out.
"Somebody might go to a boat show and ask where the Atlantic white cedar came from," he said. "You say, Jersey. This works out for everyone."
The logs will be delivered to Medford Cedar Products in Southampton, where "we’ll slice it down to the dimensions that are needed," said owner Charlene Scheibner. "We like to help the kids."
"It’s our pleasure to open up new adventure and opportunity, plant a seed," she said. "You don’t know what they will get out of it."
Haines has seen seeds grow before. The Haines Family Foundation, a charitable organization, has provided scholarships to single mothers and others, and given financial support to a local elementary school as well as Habitat for Humanity to create affordable housing.
Now, Haines’ company, the Pine Island Cranberry Co., is helping young people build boats and a feeling of self-worth.
"These are the kind of people we like to reach out to," Haines said. "If we can give more opportunity, that’s exactly what we’re called to do."