Jim & Sally Columbus - Grand Rapids, MN

Not all MFA members own hundreds of acres of woodland. Some have a city-size lot with a few trees. Others, like Jim and Sally Columbus, have an acre or two. The common thread for all is the enjoyment they get from learning and talking about our forests and woodlands.

Jim and Sally Columbus live in Grand Rapids. Their house sits on an acre and a half wooded lot adjoining five or six acres of neighbors’ woods located on a small lake. Walking down a trail to a fire pit on the shore of the lake, Jim said, “I tell my neighbors that this is the nicest spot in Itasca County and we shouldn’t be telling everyone about it.”

Jim’s interest in forestry goes back to the early 70s when he worked with his father- and brother-in-law harvesting logs from three to five acre parcels. “We worked with two old tractors and an old truck to haul logs which we, depending on the species, we sold for firewood, for railroad ties or to Blandin Paper. It was part time work that kept us in good shape. I particularly enjoyed the fresh air and solitude of the woods.”

In 2002 Jim signed up for a Woodland Advisor training program that was to be held in Grand Rapids. This was the last time Woodland Advisor training was conducted in a series of five Friday evening – Saturday sessions in February and March. Currently, Woodland Advisor training is conducted in a series of individual classes with attendees accumulating credits toward a degree.

One of the benefits of the old five-session approach was the camaraderie that developed among classmates. Besides Jim Columbus, members of that class who still see and work together on various projects include former MFA president John Bathke, former MFS board member Bob Sonnenberg, current MFA board member Jim Hunder and current MFA president John O’Reilly.

Big Contribution

A couple of years ago, Jim and his neighbors were able to make a $1,500 contribution to the Gillette Children’s Hospital through the Log a Load for Kids program. Jim observed that the big-tooth aspen on their adjoining properties was mature and, if not harvested, would begin to fall down. He talked with his neighbors, Rich Swan and Bertha and Tom Hamilton who agree to the harvest.

In all, Jim and his neighbors took down 70 aspen trees that amounted to 32 cords. Six cords were saved for firewood and the rest was purchased by Blandin Paper. Rather than dividing up the check, the neighbors agree to donate the proceeds to Log a Load for Kids.

Jim, who has worked for the City of Grand Rapids for the past 13 years, is able to put some of his interest in trees to good use on the job. Among many other duties, Jim is the city’s tree inspector. Thanks to his Woodland Advisor training, he can answer some questions and knows where to go for answers to others. He says some of the people he looks to for help include Julie Miedtke at U of M Extension, Keith Matson, retired forester, and Mike and Jana Albers, DNR forest health specialists.

Jim says, “As time goes on, I appreciate more the succession of the forest and how things tie together.”