Saturday, June 02, 2001

Developer yearns for trees, trees

His dream is to plant 1 million in lifetime

By Terry Flynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HEBRON — Paul Hemmer's company builds large industrial/commercial developments all over Greater Cincinnati and takes down a lot of trees in the process.

        Mr. Hemmer, president and chief executive of Paul Hemmer Companies, has set about putting the trees back. He decided about two years ago to restore those trees where possible with a private reforestation project.

        “I want to plant a million trees in my lifetime,” the 51-year-old Fort Mitchell native said.

[photo] Paul Hemmer poses with red maple seedlings at his farm, Sand Run Nursery and Preserve, in northernmost Boone County.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
        Mr. Hemmer and his wife, Mary, have a 210-acre farm at the end of Ky. 8 in western Boone County — the northernmost point in Kentucky — where they have already planted more than 7,000 seedlings of various types of hardwood trees native to this area.

        Mr. Hemmer said he came to the figure of 1 million trees after reading a story in a book given him by his wife that told of a French shepherd who planted 100 acorns every day on his way to the pastures and eventually created an entire forest of oak trees.

        “I used a round number of planting 40,000 trees a year, so it would take 25 years to plant 1 million,” he said.

Planting Freedom Groves

        The project recently took another turn as Mr. Hemmer and some friends received approval from the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center to start a Freedom Trees program to create 10,000 400-tree groves radiating from the Freedom Center through communities up to 50 miles away. That would be 4 million trees.

        “There were 4 million slaves in America, so we want to plant 4 million freedom trees,” he explained. “That's 400 trees each in 10,000 groves. At 40,000 trees a year on the farm, that would take 100 years, so obviously this is a multigenerational project.”

        The groves would ideally be located around historic destinations and near historic routes relating to the Underground Railroad. Each grove would cover about three-quarters of an acre.

        “We hope the first grove will be planted at Northern Kentucky University, which is one of the center's Freedom Stations,” Mr. Hemmer said. “We think the university will be able to assist and encourage volunteers to help in the planting.”

   Some of the larger Paul Hemmer Companies developments
    • Northern Kentucky Industrial Park: Greater Cincinnati's largest industrial park with 1,346 acres of industrial business, in Florence near International 75.
    • Airpark International: 366-acre industrial business park off Ky. 20 near the airport.
    • Airpark West: 242-acre mixed-use business park, home of Toyota Distribution Center, off Ky. 237 in Hebron.
    • Thomas More Centre: 162-acre office-technology business park near Thomas More College and St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Crestview Hills.
    • Consolidated Plastics Co.: A total of more than $8 million in two buildings in Twinsburg, Ohio.
    • General Electric Lighting: Two projects totaling more than $7 million in Batesville, Ind.
    • Miami Valley Industrial Park: Hemmer's largest Ohio project, 111 acres just purchased for $2.8 million, with an estimated development cost of $45 million. A joint effort with ProLogis Trust of Denver, which has partnered with Hemmer on other projects in Boone County and Louisville.
        Don Girton, a retired national parks officer and member of the Northern Kentucky Urban Forest Council who has a small tree farm near Alexandria, said he was impressed with Mr. Hemmer's plans.

        “It's an ambitious undertaking, especially for an individual,” Mr. Girton said. “It's a unique operation. Typically, government agencies are involved in this sort of thing.”

        Mr. Girton, who said he had visited the Hemmer farm and will offer technical advice on growing trees, agreed that a large-scale tree planting locally is important in helping conserve forests.

        “Especially because (Mr. Hemmer) is working with native species,” he said. “I think it's a unique niche to try to get the larger hardwood trees planted.” Included in Mr. Hemmer's list of seedlings at the farm are ash, maple, oak, catalpa, sycamore, poplar, Kentucky coffee tree and locust.

Development, reforestation

        The Hemmer construction business began in 1921, and since its incorporation in 1982 the company has developed more than 2,000 acres and built more than 1,000 office and warehouse buildings across the Tristate.

        Mr. Hemmer said he has never tried to calculate how many trees have been cut to build those structures, but he knows the loss has been substantial.

        “We have to buy large tracts of land, clear them and level them to build commercial and industrial properties,” he said. “We have made an effort to stabilize the graded land around the buildings, and now we're planting seedlings in those areas to bring the trees back.”

        During the previous year, Mr. Hemmer and his wife, with volunteer help, harvested about 2,000 trees from the farm, now known as Sand Run Nursery & Preserve. About 1,500 were replanted at Hemmer Companies sites, and the rest were planted in the 160 acres of the farm that is already forested.

        “We have three issues to consider in our long-rage plans for the farm,” he said. “We have the financial issues, the labor issue and the issue of selecting trees compatible to the area. We're working on all three right now. We realize that we're going to need a full-time person on the farm.”

        Mr. Hemmer would not disclose the amount he thought the privately funded project would cost.

Educational site

        A 12,000-square-foot barn is under construction at Sand Run and should be completed by late summer. In addition to storage of farm equipment and seedlings, the barn will have a wing to be used as an education center.

        “We hope to bring school groups here to learn about trees and reforestation,” Mr. Hemmer said. “We have seven miles of trails through the property, mostly through the wooded areas.”

        He also hopes to involve communities on both sides of the river that may have an interest in reforestation.

        “We can help create a master plan for communities, where maybe 200-300 trees a year could be planted,” he said. “These communities could change their profiles with time, in a fairly economical way.”

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