CHATHAM – When Assistant Conservation Agent Paul Wightman needed boxes to hold trail guides for the town's conservation properties, he searched for commercially-made boxes that would fit the bill, but couldn't find any that had two compartments, were rugged enough to withstand the weather and looked good.
When the woodworking group of the Chatham-Harwich Newcomers Club inquired if the town had any projects they might tackle, Wightman responded immediately. After working up a design, members of the group got to work and last week presented Wightman with seven custom-made trail guide boxes.
“It's really, really appreciated,” said Wightman, who planned to begin installing the boxes this week. Eventually they will be placed at the trail heads at the Captain Harding Conservation Area in West Chatham, at the Old Comers Woodland, the McCoy Tree Farm, the George Ryder Road Forest, and other popular hiking spots.
For a dozen years the woodworking group has helped out local nonprofits and government agencies with projects that required custom wood work, not only solving problems and filling needs but saving lots of money as well. The group has a number of criteria that a project must meet: It has to be for a civic organization, which must pay for materials; it must involve something that can't be purchased commercially; the object or objects must be built in a workshop; and the group won't paint or install the final product, other than bringing it to its final destination.
The group meets once a week at a member's home workshop, said Warren Chane, who took the lead on the trail guide box project. About 60 people belong to the group, but between 18 and 25 show up at any given meeting.
Chane, who lives in Chatham, said he reached out to Chatham Town Manager Jill Goldsmith and asked if there were any projects the group could do for the town. “It only took about one day” to hear back. Wightman had several ideas, including wood duck nesting boxes. A little research showed those were available commercially for less cost than the woodworkers could produce them. They settled on the trail guide boxes, since none that were readily available fit Wightman's specifications.
Everyone who participated in the project had input into the design, which was based on a sample box that Wightman had. “It was roughly like this, but nothing like this,” Chane said. Wightman's box was made of plywood and was painted, but he wanted something made of cedar that would better withstand the weather.
The group was able to locate 12-inch-wide cedar to build the boxes, which were left unsanded and rough to give them a rugged, weathered appearance. An oil-based preservative was used to provide extra protection for the wood.
“It was a learning experience all the way,” Chane said of the project, which took the group an estimated 280 hours.
Over the past dozen or so years, the woodworking group has done between 30 and 40 projects, said leader Steve Patzman.
“This one was a little different,” he said of the trail boxes. “Usually it's furniture.” The woodworkers have been in touch with the Chatham Conservation Foundation and plan on building additional trail boxes for that nonprofit's trail heads.
Some of the group's past projects have included a specially-made counter for the Cape Abilities store in Chatham's Old Village; bookshelves for the Marconi Maritime Center Museum, the Eldredge Public Library and Brooks Free Library; and benches at Monomoy Regional High School and other locations. There are generally four to six projects in the pipeline, he said. Right now, members of the group are making folding display screens for the Brooks Academy Museum, little free libraries for Chatham and Harwich elementary schools, and a bench for the park being created on the Ryder's Cove side of the Marconi property.
Members of the group range in skills from novices to experienced carpenters For more information about the group and its work, contact Patzman at 508-432-0665.