Highland Park High School students lead movement to repurpose twin Oak trees
Two magnificent oak trees that had stood on the front lawn of Highland Park High School for at least 80 years were cut down because of disease on December 27, 2017. The Highland Park High School staff, administration, and the Environmental Club wanted to preserve the memory of these noble trees and sustainably repurpose their wood.
Working together, the high school’s environmental club and the administration created a plan to honor the trees. The goal was to salvage the wood and memorialize the two tree stumps as artistic carvings of the school’s mascot–the owl. The group reached out to the Highland Park community and local artists for help.
The high school partnered with Nature’s Fell, a local mill that specializes in repurposing fallen trees into wood products. The owner, Scott Alexander, worked with the high school to design the project elements. The mill made cutting boards, candle-holders and dimensional lumber from the wood.
Through a GoFundMe campaign started by the Environmental Club, these items were offered in exchange for donations along with the opportunity to be listed on a plaque made of the oak wood that is now proudly displayed in the school foyer. In less than a year, the campaign raised almost $8,500. The funds were sufficient to pay for the salvage operation as well as the carvings. Additional funds were raised from alumni to replant trees on the school’s property.
Using a cross section of one of the historic oaks, the mill also created a giant table and a miniature owl sculpture that are now located in the school’s library. Every day, students work at the beautiful oak table, which is a piece of art in its own right.
Part of the money was used to commission a Pennsylvanian artist to fashion the remaining trunks into two giant owls that stand outside of the school doors. The owl carvings were designed and carved by Joe King, who has nearly thirty years of experience making unique carvings from trees. The new owls are in place on the front lawn, watching over the high school students.
Well-known for her commitment to sustainability, Sophia McDermott-Hughes, a senior, is president of the Highland Park High School Environmental Club and a student representative of Sustainable Highland Park, the municipal green team. McDermott said, “It was really incredible for us to see a problem in our school and community, come up with a solution and work to see it come to fruition. Going to school every day, we see the owls outside, a visible reminder of the work we did that will still be there years after we’ve left the school.” She added, “I think most young environmentalists don’t feel like they have agency over their school community, but this project goes to show that, with determination and hard work, young people can be sustainability leaders and make a difference.”
This inspiring project that combined creativity, sustainability and community is a perfect example of the tremendous impact that Sustainable Jersey green teams are having on the local level. Highland Park Borough has an active municipal and school district green team. The municipal green team, Sustainable Highland Park, has achieved Sustainable Jersey certification at the silver-level for Highland Park Borough and all four of the schools (Bartle Elementary, Irving Primary School, Highland Park Middle School and Highland Park High School) in the Highland Park School District are certified with Sustainable Jersey for Schools.