U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner visited the Aspen Wood Products mill in Mancos on Tuesday as part of a tour of Colorado.
The mill, owned and operated by David Sitton, was formerly the Western Excelsior Plant, which burned down in 2017.
Sitton purchased the business in 2018, salvaged and restored equipment, built a new warehouse for excelsior mill operations and cleaned the property.
“We geared up fast and filled a market niche,” Sitton said. “It took a lot of support from Mancos, First Southwest Bank and many others to make it happen.”
The mill produces excelsior, a shredded aspen product made from trees logged in the San Juan National Forest.
The material is packaged and sold for erosion control wattles, air conditioners, packing material and acoustic tiles.
“It’s impressive,” Gardner said. “Operations like this help sustain the forest and create jobs for the community.”
Sitton has hired 30 workers, many from the former excelsior plant. Business has been brisk, and he plans to hire 12 to 15 workers for a second shift. The former Western Excelsior mill had about 110 workers.
A tour showed dozens of workers feeding aspen from a conveyor belt into a row of industrial shredders. The material is then fed into a hopper that packs it into long tubes that are rolled and stacked. Semitrailers leave with the product while logging trucks with aspen arrive.
Sitton partners with the national forest to plan for aspen regeneration projects needed to support the mill’s demand.
Regarding the timber industry, Gardner noted his efforts to reauthorize the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, which provides federal funding for forest management. He cosponsored a bill that passed to prevent “fire borrowing,” a practice that took money away from national forest timber sales to fight wildfires.
The timber industry has found a foothold again in Southwest Colorado. Montrose Forest Products committed to logging in the San Juan National Forest, the Mancos mill reopened and a new wood manufacturer, Iron Wood, plans a new plant south of Dolores.
“There is a market for more mills in the area, a lot of wood products that could be milled,” Sitton said. “There is a ton of opportunity out there.”