The MooseWood Millworks plant in Ashland. Credit: Courtesy of Seven Islands Land Co.

ASHLAND, Maine — Ashland is one step closer to giving a shuttered mill a second life manufacturing a new wood construction product.

A Wisconsin company plans to reopen the former MooseWood Millworks flooring plant in Ashland as Maine’s first manufacturing plant for a natural log product known as structural round timber.

The state’s forest products industry has an $8.1 billion economic impact and supports nearly 32,000 jobs, according to the Maine International Trade Center in Portland. The timber venture would bring a new product to the state and to heavily forested Aroostook County. For the small town of Ashland, the revival of the mill, which has been closed since 2017, will mean new opportunities for employment.

The product uses smaller, leftover logs that most mills would consider waste. In Ashland, near Maine’s North Woods, where several logging companies harvest, materials are plentiful.

“Right through Ashland you access what’s probably about 10 million acres of forest land. It’s one of the largest continuous blocks of forest land east of the Mississippi,” said Dan LaMontagne, CEO of Seven Islands Land Co.

The town of Ashland, Seven Islands and WholeTrees Structures of Madison, Wisconsin, which would set up the mill, are negotiating a lease for the property, located on the Realty Road in Ashland.

The project has received $600,000 in grants from the Northern Maine Forest Center and Maine Development Foundation, and is awaiting federal funding of $500,000 from the latest congressional spending package to finalize the lease.

Ashland is involved in the lease negotiations because the grants and federal funding come directly to the town.

The new business would employ 15 to 20 people, Ashland Town Manager Cyr Martin said, and would refurbish some of the machines inside the existing building for use in the operation.

Seven Islands will retain ownership of the mill, which WholeTrees will lease. Original Mass Timber will work with WholeTrees to run the operation.

Ashland began studying the timber product in 2021 as part of its effort to attract new forest product manufacturers. The town joined the Structural Round Timber Initiative, and worked with partners to create the Original Mass Timber Maine brand and develop East Coast markets for the product.

Structural round timber is a slightly modified, natural tree trunk used for support beams, trusses, columns and other assemblies like playgrounds, according to WholeTrees. The company also makes decorative products like benches

Logs are peeled, sanded and finished. The company also produces prefabricated kits that come complete with fitted steel connectors.

The product has environmental advantages because it requires no adhesives, takes little processing and uses local timber, according to Original Mass Timber.

The Maine Technology Institute also awarded the structural timber venture a combined $600,000 to hire the executive leadership team and continue to grow the new market, said Karin Petrin, an independent grant administrator working with Ashland and Original Mass Timber.

Phase one of the project, creating demand for the timber product, has been ongoing, and the next phase will put a leadership team in place to finalize the lease, she said.

In the coming month, WholeTrees will hire a recruiter for the timber initiative, who will start work to fill four leadership positions for the new business.

The new facility will use eastern cedar, sugar maple, juniper, spruce, white pine and hemlock.