Vail: Artist installs recycled beetle benches |

Vail: Artist installs recycled beetle benches

Caramie Schnell
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyWyoming artist Ben Roth Wednesday sands down a split pine-beetle-killed log for the benches he and fellow artist Brad Watsabaugh are installing in Vail's Ford Park.

VAIL, Colorado –It might look a little like lightning struck three giant lodgepole pine trees in Vail’s Ford Park and split them perfectly down the middle. At least that’s how Wyoming artist Ben Roth envisions the project.

“This half of the tree we’re standing back up, so it’ll be vertical, with a bench coming out of it,” Roth explained to Helda Matern, a visitor from Malibu, Calif. Wednesday afternoon at the Vail park. Roth was taking a break from sanding the halved tree to answer passersby questions. “It’ll look like the shadow of a tree or like it just fell open.”

Three such benches will be lined up at a sharp angle to the Gore Creek that flows behind the installation.

“It’s just the best idea,” Matern mused, staring at one of the dissected 40-foot trees lying sideways atop a few sawhorses next to the recreation path that winds through the park.

The characteristic blue stain in beetle kill trees was visible through the length of the tree. Piles of charcoal-colored branches, pine cones and hundreds of brown needles lay scattered around the area.

The pine trees are being reincarnated into giant sculptures that double as benches in Ford Park this week.

The exhibit, an Art in Public Places project, is entirely sustainable, down to the sawhorses, which were made from leftover wood, said Molly Eppard, the Art in Public Places coordinator.

The trees will remain in the park for as long as Mother Nature allows, she said, and when they do come down, they’ll be put into a wood chipper and used for mulch. Leftover branches will be used to make the signposts explaining the exhibit.

“They want to use as much of the wood as possible,” Eppard said. “It’s pretty amazing that it’s such a sustainable installation.”

The trees used for the installation were felled Monday at two private homes in East Vail. Removing the trees took all day because Roth wanted to protect the branches, which meant they couldn’t just let it fall because all the branches would’ve fallen off when it hit the ground, he said.

Instead, employees from A Cut Above Forestry and the wildland fire fighting division of the Vail Fire Department devised a plan. “They attached a crane to the tree to control it and there were guys in harnesses up in the air doing the cuts,” Eppard said.

With the sound of chain saws whirring in the background, Roth talked about the project, his largest scale piece since he began sculpting nine years ago. In the past, Roth has done large Aspen tree art projects in Jackson Hole, where he lives. This project is different in that it’s interactive, he said.

“The viewer can sit on the bench, touch it and contemplate it rather than just see it from a distance,” Roth said.

Later on, sawdust billowed in the air while Roth sanded one tree and his friend and fellow Wyoming woodworker Brad Watsabaugh used a chain saw to cut one of the other trees in half. Boulder resident Rocky Nelson and his son Rocky Jr. stopped playing catch for a few minutes to watch the men work.

“At first I thought they were just tearing down old trees,” Nelson said. “I’ve never seen an art installation of this type before. But I think it’s a good idea – and certainly better than having it burn down.”

While the installation will wrap up Friday – a crane will move the trees into place starting at 9 a.m. Friday – Eppard said she hopes to have a celebratory art opening some time in July. She also hopes the Gore Range Natural Science School and the Vail Nature Center will take advantage of the exhibit to teach people about pine beetles, as well as about the formation and growth of a tree.

“You just don’t see this done very often,” she said.

High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or

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