Jim Norton is turning pine logs into square posts with his hydraulic saw while working outdoors on a crisp afternoon.
Standing nearby is his wife, Vicki, who is helping her husband with his venture as a tree farmer, custom sawmill operator and furniture maker.
The Nortons live on 48 acres of family property in Soda Creek that has been their home for many years. For the past year, Jim and Vicki have been using the forest to establish a new business that they hope will become a thriving enterprise.
“The goal is to be 100 percent self-sufficient,” Jim says as he works with wood that was once standing as a tree on his land.
The Nortons’ property is zoned forest agricultural, and they have an agreement with the Colorado State Forest Service to manage it according to guidelines.
Each year the State Forest Service looks at Colorado tree farms and chooses one for a special award; the Nortons recently received the state Tree Farmer of the Year award for 2012.
Calling the award “a little pat on the head,” Vicki said she and Jim appreciate the recognition for their efforts.
The work that Jim does is hard. It involves clearing out weak and aging trees and chopping them into firewood, some of which he uses for heat in the wintertime. The rest of the firewood Jim sells or barters to those who need it.
When he and Vicki decided to become tree farmers last year, they began cutting trees and selling them. However, they soon realized that the cost of transporting raw timber to a sawmill was taking most of their profits.
So Jim decided to create his own sawmill, and bought a state-of-the-art saw to do custom work.
“We can make lumber now,” said Jim.
He is receiving orders, and is purchasing wood such as mesquite and cedar to create mantels for homes. Other products include Adirondack chairs, saw logs and fence posts.
Jim also has a talent for making rustic furniture, and he has opened Whiskey Hill Rustic Furniture on the couple’s property. Using rough-cut logs that he finishes to a shine with tong oil, Jim makes large tables from pine and other wood.
Clearing away excess trees on their land keeps the forest healthy and opens up the land for wildlife, says Vicki. Since the Nortons have been managing their woodland, they have been seeing flocks of wild turkeys, foxes, a bobcat and even moose.
“We have really changed the dynamics of the environment,” says Vicki. “We’re seeing animals we never saw as a kid.
“Besides helping control the mountain pine beetle, we thin overgrown and over-mature stands to make better wildlife habitat,” she adds.
Lawton Grinter, a forester with the Golden district of the State Forest Service, said the Tree Farmer of the Year award is a tribute to the Nortons’ work and passion for private forestry.
“Jim and Vicki Norton are true stewards of their land,” Grinter said. “The forestry work they have conducted on their property has been done with careful planning and scientifically sound applications.”
Contact reporter Sandy Barnes at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 303-350-1042.