Owner of Mountain Pine Manufacturing says $160K federal grant will allow sawmill that reuses beetle-kill trees to realize its dream

June 16, 2023

Eli Pace

Owner Trent Jones of Mountain Pine Manufacturing is awarded a $160,000 U.S. Forest Service federal grant that will help purchase machinery and equipment to expand and complete the sawmill operations

The owner of Mountain Pine Manufacturing is feeling grateful and optimistic after learning the local business that specializes in WoodStraw — a unique, alternative form of erosion control — just got a big federal grant.

In March, Mountain Pine Manufacturing hosted a tour to showcase how the mill at 10 Moffat County Road 27 has grown while sharing some of the innovative products it produces and is looking to generate support among locals and Colorado lawmakers for the business’ grant application.

On June 9, company president Trent Jones received a letter informing him Mountain Pine Manufacturing had been awarded $160,000 through the U.S. Forest Service’s Wood Innovations Grant Program to buy machinery and equipment so the business can expand and complete its sawmill. When Jones learned Mountain Pine Manufacturing had received the grant, he was elated.

“Boom, baby — yeah,” he said of his reaction. “It’s just fantastic, you know.”

He said Mountain Pine Manufacturing has had “a really, really difficult four-year struggle” trying to clean up the old sawmill and trying to make the business work. While $160,000 is not a lot of money in the grand scheme of building a sawmill, Jones said, “it’s pieces like this that actually make the business sustainable.”

“Without this kind of stuff, we wouldn’t make it, and we need this bad,” he said. “So, it couldn’t be better timing.”

Jones explained that Mountain Pine recently invested in a scrap mill operation that was, in part, funded through the Northwest Loan Fund from the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments and through a grant from Moffat County’s Local Marketing District. However, he said the business was still just a little short of being able to finish off all the work.

“This federal grant gives us that little push over the hill and allows us to really complete the mill the right way and put us on the map for the sustainable future,” Jones said.

WoodStraw is comprised of small strands of wood that can be sprayed through a hose over bare ground to help prevent erosion. Jones said Mountain Pine Manufacturing is one of only two product-makers in the U.S., and it can be applied to pretty much any construction site.

“Whether it’s a wildlife burn area and you’re restoring the forest, whether you’re building a Walmart and just trying to control stormwater issues, whether you’re building a fancy house in Steamboat Springs and trying keep your topsoil in place and grow native plants and grasses, or you’re trying to reclaim an oil well and put it back to nature, Woodstraw, there’s just a huge potential market for it,” Jones said.

WoodStraw is derived from beetle-kill hazard trees, and to Jones, it’s a win-win situation for the environment. On one side of the production chain, he’s removing dead trees from forest land and reducing the fire risk. On the other, he’s helping regrow plants by preventing erosion.

Beyond that, WoodStraw’s byproducts include custom-cut lumber, firewood, siding and flooring and fence posts or cores.

When applying for the grant, Jones hosted the tour in hopes of generating letters of support from locals, and from lawmakers like U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, who participated in the event. Over the phone, Jones said he wasn’t sure the letters would help him in the grant process, but then he got a call from the U.S. Forest Service.

“They said, ‘You have a letter from Sen. Bennet missing out of your grant,’ and they wanted that,” Jones said. “I sent it to them. The only question they had about the grant (when the Forest Service called) was where’s Sen. Bennet’s letter? … The support actually seemed to make a difference.”

In the short term, Jones expects to add four to five new jobs to the existing three employees who currently work at the mill. However, if WoodStraw takes off like he hopes it will, Jones believes the facility could handle up to another 25 employees. As a result, he’s grateful for all the support Mountain Pine Manufacturing has received, from the local and regional funding, to the letters of support and the $160,000 federal grant.

“Hopefully, (it will) give us a more successful future so that we can create more jobs in the valley, and the real goal is to eat up a lot more of the beetle-kill pine trees in our local forest and help reduce fire danger, and hopefully prevent the next big catastrophic wildfire,” Jones said.

Jones is grateful for the help. He said Mountain Pine Manufacturing was at the end of its ability to finance work on the mill.

“You get to that level where you just can’t borrow anymore, and this pushes us there,” Jones said. “It finishes the mill and it allows us to finish our dream.”