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Department: Sustain

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Montana Ghost Wood
Invented by Bitterroot Valley Forest Products

Article by Valerie Harms • Photos by Tyler Wantulok

The Ghost Wood team’s mission statement is “To insure countless hours of experimenting (many late nights in a
Ghost Wood is as green and eco-friendly as reclaimed wood garage) Haywood Jones, general manager, invented the
by utilizing dead standing timber, preserving our Ghost machine to put the weathered texture on any raw board,
Towns, restoring water sheds and stream restoration projects, and Ryan Palma came up with the rest of the processes to
and recycling all by-products.” make a piece of wood that looked identical to reclaimed
barn wood.
Toward this end the folks
at Bitterroot Valley Forest Numerous more hours were

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Products of Missoula spent spent developing custom
$150,000 developing a wood machines to mass-produce the
product that looks and feels new product.They knew that
like old barns, whether gray, the choice of a name would
brown, red, or blackened. It be a valuable key to jump-
costs about half the price start the new product. Since
as recycled lumber and is the employees at Bitterroot
far less wasteful. Thirty- Valley Forest Products are
seventy percent of reclaimed native Montanans, they
wood ends up being un- were familiar with the ghost
usable due to rot, splits, and towns and old barns, ranging
defects. And the Ghost in shades from brown, rust,
Wood product prevents ghost black, grey, to silver. Jim
towns and other abandoned Edinger, owner, decided to
structures from being name their new product
ravaged. According to Mike “Montana Ghost Wood.”
Thompson of Bozeman’s
Kenyon Noble, “There’s a Montana Ghost
ton of interest in it.” Wood products
The idea of coming up with a new product started two years Bannack Brown is the original color, named after
ago. The company originally wanted to develop a product the old structures in Bannack State Park. Most of these
using new wood to make it look old or to make it resemble buildings have the original wood with a beautiful brown
reclaimed barn wood. Reclaimed wood had become very patina.
popular, but for many people it is not affordable and for
many contractors it is not an easy product to install. After Founded in 1862, Bannack was where the great Montana

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time fishing the Blackfoot River. Here too are old wood
structures that have aged to a color of black and brown-rust.
This river has some of the most colorful old barns along its
banks in Montana.

The town and river were named after the Blackfeet Indians.
One story is that painting one’s moccasins black gave
one power to catch buffalo. Another is that the Indians’
moccasins turned black when they crossed burned prairies.
Regardless, the tribe was named Siksiksa, which translates
to Blackfeet.

The Blackfoot River begins along the Continental Divide


boom began. Many prospectors, refugees from the Civil War, in the mountains outside Lincoln and flows through scenic
and businessmen hoping to strike it rich rushed to Bannack, and diverse countryside for 130 miles before its confluence
then known as the Queen of the Gold Camps. Thievery with the Clark Fork near the town of Bonner.
and vigilantes abounded. In 1864, Bannack was named as
Meriwether Lewis traveled along the Blackfoot River on
the first Territorial Capital of Montana. From the late 1860’s
his return trip across Montana. It became a transportation
to the 1930’s, Bannack continued as a mining town where
corridor for years, serving Indians, trappers, miners, and
individuals experimented with mining techniques and raised
loggers. The first large-scale timber cutting started in 1885
families. By the 1950’s most people had left and the State
at Bonner; its principal customer was copper king, Marcus
of Montana declared Bannack a state park. Today over 60
Daly.
structures of raw beauty may be viewed.
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In 1992, the release of the movie A River Runs Through


Silver City is the second color that Ghost Wood produced.
It (made on the Blackfoot) attracted many people to the
The idea was to replicate the silver-gray look of reclaimed
state. Today, the Blackfoot River is one of the more popular
barn wood found in the Silver Bow Creek Valley around
rivers in Montana for fly-fishing, rafting, and just relaxing.
Butte, where sit some of the most beautiful silver barn wood
In the upper half of the river, the Blackfoot runs slowly
structures in the state. Because many of the team members
through dense forests with brushy and timbered banks.
have relatives in Butte, it was an easy choice for their second
Numerous logjams are found in the river. Beginning near
product.

Also, they were inspired by Butte’s history as the “richest


hill on earth,” when it was the nation’s largest single source
of silver in the late 19th century and the largest source of
copper until the 1930’s.

Ruby River is the third color of the Ghost Wood product


line. A favorite place to fish, the Ruby River was named
for the deceptive red garnets that early settlers mistook
for rubies. The Ruby River begins in the Gravelly Range
of southwest Montana, flows down these mountains into
a valley that lies between the Ruby Range to the south
and the magnificent Tobacco Root mountains to the north.
The river ends with the confluence of the Jefferson River at
Twin Bridges. In this region are a handful of 100-year-old
barns that were painted red many years ago. The red paint
has faded away on most of these barns, leaving beautiful
structures with weathered patinas of red and silver-grey.

Blackfoot is the latest color for Ghost Wood. Like the


Ruby River, the folks at the company have spent a lot of

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Circle 25 on ad info card

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When live trees are used for building homes or businesses,
allowances have to be made for settling and shrinking.
Joints may have to be routed to prevent gaps. The wood
must be kiln or air dried. With dead timber the shrinkage
and warpage have already occurred. Dead trees dry to
the centers of their trunks as they age. Using them is less
labor-intensive. Dead timber is also more economical than
reclaimed lumber.

Removing dead trees is thus a green, sustainable act, as the


lumber can be employed in solid, handsome constructions.
Once cleared, the forest can quickly regenerate and make
way as it always does for new growth. Using dead trees is
River Junction Fishing Access Site, about the halfway point, much better too than vandalizing old mining camps and
the Blackfoot picks up velocity and flows through a broad, ghost towns, which may be historic treasures, of its wood.
sparsely wooded plain. A wildlife preserve exists on the far
side of the road to the north of the river. This section is an The company also supports wood obtained from sawmills
excellent spot to observe elk, moose, deer, and bears. The that have Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or Sustainable
river then flows through a beautiful canyon and emerges Forestry Initiative (SFI) certification, which ensures that the
from the mountains just a couple of miles above the Clark wood comes from forests managed in an environmentally
Fork. sound way. Trusted environmental organizations, including
Greenpeace, National Wildlife Federation, The Nature
Montana Ghost Wood comes not only in colors but also Conservancy, Sierra Club, and World Wildlife Fund all
several textures.

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support and encourage such certification. Consumers
wishing to support healthy forests and communities can
• Weathered: This texture resembles the worn look of
look and ask for the certification label when purchasing
reclaimed wood. The grain of the wood is raised to give it
wood or paper products.
a weathered appearance.

• Circle Sawn Weathered: This texture resembles the


weathered texture but also reveals subtle saw kerfs beneath
the surface. The depth of this texture makes it difficult to
notice the difference between Ghost Wood and reclaimed
barn wood.

• Montana Hewn: This look resembles the traditional


drawknife and adzed appearance left behind by the artisans
who created it by hand.

The company supports sustainable forestry practices. One


way is by using fire and beetle-killed trees. As they explain,
selective removal of dead trees reduces crowding, encourages
the growth of younger trees, and maintains a diversity of
species, ages, and sizes. If done properly, selective cutting
decreases the ability of fire to spread, soil to erode, and trees
to blow down on campers, roads, power lines.

Until recently cutting dead trees didn’t seem to make


sense. But when trees are killed through periodic fires or
beetle epidemics, the wood remains and slowly dries out
over years—even decades—of low humidity in the Rocky
Mountain area. In this way it is naturally cured and becomes
extremely stable for use in construction.

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Montana Ghost Wood is part of an enterprise that has had
a long history in Montana. J & R Planning was founded in
1976 and has continued as the parent company of all ensuing
entities. In 1990, a second plant, named Montana West,
was added. This facility was created to handle a growing
demand for the custom packaging of lumber species. In
1993, still another business would be added to the successful
J & R family. This facility, the smallest of the three, is known
as Western Montana Millwork. It was primarily set up to
handle a proprietary trim product, called Alltrim. In the
mid-1990’s, management recognized a need for its own sales
department in order to ensure future growth for their plants.
Thus, in 1997 Bitterroot Valley Forest Products was created.
Ghost Wood was launched in 2007.

The parent company, Bitterroot Valley Forest Products,


works with the Big Blackfoot Chapter of Trout Unlimited
to restore the Blackfoot River watershed. It also contributes
to the Montana Ghost Town Preservation Society. The
company is proud of its green products—from homes
to mantels and doors—and partnering with groups that
benefit Montana. Ryan Palma (Sales & Marketing) adds,
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“We developed a partnership with R&R Conner Aviation
recently. This helicopter logging company was featured on
the “Ax Men” TV show on the History Channel. We are
buying standing dead logs from them for manufacturing
large Ghost Wood timbers. Because they are currently not
logging due to the bad economic situation, we are trying to
promote this in order to get them back to work.

“Our goal for Ghost Wood is to be a positive influence on


all parties we are involved with. From loggers to preservation
and everyone in between.”

For more information, see http://www.bvfpmontana.com


or www.mtghostwood.com.

~ Valerie Harms, the editor of Distinctly Montana magazine,


is the author of nine books and numerous articles. See more
about her at www.valerieharms.com.

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