Students helping clear trees at Elkhart airport

Students from Crossing Educational Center are helping remove trees at Elkhart's Municipal Airport.
Posted on May 3, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on May 3, 2013 at 4:07 p.m.

ELKHART — Landing at Elkhart Municipal Airport’s north-south runway will soon be a little easier, thanks to a group of students from The Crossing Educational Center.

On Friday, more than two dozen students stepped up their efforts to remove trees and old stumps in an airport field south of the runway.

When they’re done in the next week or two, the group will have cleared out a large part of the field.

Airport manager Andy Jones said the project was too big for his staff to handle. If they had contracted the project to a private firm, it would have cost at least $30,000.

Instead, they contacted the Crossing and will have the work done for about $12,000, Jones said.

“It’s good for everybody,” Jones said.

The Crossing is a faith-based educational service that works with students who have struggled in the traditional classroom setting and has an extensive tree cutting program that has been around for years.

In the past, they’ve worked to remove dying, dead or unwanted trees at numerous golf courses and private residences.

The improvement at the airport became necessary after the Federal Aviation Administration informed the city of new guidelines in expanding a clear view for pilots. Unlike the larger east-west runway, which uses an instrument landing systems, the north-south runway relies on a series of lights on the ground to help guide pilots into a proper approach at night.

The trees had to be removed to expand width of visibility for pilots who are making their approach following a short turn, Jones said.

The federal government wanted to expand the view by five degrees on both sides of the approach, Jones said.

After clearing trees from the field south of the runway, the students will focus their attention on a wooded area between C.R. 7 and a Walmart store that also needs some trees to be removed and others to be trimmed, Jones said.

The land is owned by Gordon Compton, who has been cooperative with the airport’s desire to remove obstructions, Jones said.

Many of the students and support staff fanned out into the field Friday with bright green shirts emblazoned with the theme of removing 65 trees and 95 stumps in 2 weeks. “Serve wholeheartedly as if you were serving the Lord, not men,” the shirts read.

The effort represents a new relationship with the city. Jones and Rob Staley, executive director with the Crossing, both expressed appreciation for the chance to collaborate.

“We recognize our students need to value work and it adds great value to their life,” Staley said.

“We have a lot of fun tackling things like this that you’re not supposed to do as high school students,” Staley said.

The students have received extensive training on tree removal techniques and move up in experience through three levels. The more experienced workers handle chain saws and climb trees to trim off the tops. They also serve as mentors for the less experienced students.

Students participating at the airport were from South Bend, Nappanee and Elkhart.

Along with the tree service, the local Crossing branches recently set up a lumber yard and saw mill, where students make pallets and dry hardwoods that can be sold to companies in the recreational van industry.

It’s job training for students, teaching particular skills, as well as just good work ethics, Staley said.

The tree service alone puts $10,000 a month into the Crossing’s general fund, Staley said.

Some of the best lumber from the airport project will be saved for the saw mill. Much of it was being chopped and prepared as firewood. Another big pile of wood and brush was being assembled and will be burned on site. Jones said the city obtained a special permit to burn the wood.

The crossing has a two-month backlog of work ahead for the summer, but continues to seek out more projects, said Matt Hogarth, director of the tree service for the Crossing.

For more information about the Crossing or tree work in the Elkhart area, call 574 226-0671.

Truth Reporter Marlys Weaver-Stoesz contributed to this report.

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