Boardwalks are a large and growing use of tropical hardwoods. The woods of choice for boardwalks were western red cedar, Atlantic white cedar, Douglas fir and pine pressure-treated with toxic pesticides.
The first boardwalk to become famous in the US was Atlantic City (AC). AC’s boardwalk, built in the late 1880s, was first made of Atlantic white cedar, a wood native to the Pine Barrens forests of southern New Jersey. Actually not a cedar but an arborvitae, Atlantic white cedar is extremely rot resistant. But overlogging soon made the wood more expensive and harder to come by. Atlantic City shifted to western red cedar, a temperate rainforest wood native to the coastal rainforests of the northwestern US and Canada.
Eventually, overlogging of cedar in the northwest US virtually eliminated that wood’s commercial availability, with old growth cedar becoming more expensive and available only from British Columbia, Canada.
Around the 1950s, Atlantic City began switching to chemically-treated southern yellow pine, which had become widely available since the use of pesticides had drastically increased after World War II.
But pine, even chemically treated, only lasts for about 10 years on a boardwalk, a maintenance nightmare.
In the 1960s, New York City became the first city to use tropical hardwoods for a coastal boardwalk, in the section in Coney Island. Since then, tropical wood importers have been targeting boardwalk towns to use tropical woods, due to their high profile, which is used as a selling point.
Most of the companies now selling ipê, which is the tropical wood these companies settled on, cite the Atlantic City boardwalk as the model of the durability and beauty of tropical wood for decking.
Towns from the tip of Long Island to the end of southern Florida, to southern California to the Northwest U.S., have now used tropical woods for boardwalks. New York City, Greenport, Long Beach and Yonkers in New York; Asbury Park, Avon, Ventnor, Ocean City, North Wildwood and Atlantic City in New Jersey; Baltimore, Maryland; Lake Buena Vista, Miami Beach and Broward County, Florida; Philadelphia, PA; Indianapolis, IN; Duluth, Minnesota; and Long Beach, California have all used rainforest woods for their boardwalks. Many of these have since been stopped or convinced to switch to independently certified woods by Rainforest Relief campaigns (see Successes). Atlantic City, NJ and New York City still may use rainforest woods, but Rainforest Relief is on the case.
Long Branch, New Jersey, avoiding rainforest wood following our campaign in Asbury Park, just to the south, may become the first coastal boardwalk town to use durable and structural Polywood recycled plastic lumber, due to our prompting.
If your town has a boardwalk (or marina, pier or other waterfront project), check if they've used tropical hardwoods and work with us to secure passage of a resolution or ordinance to avoid future use of rainforest woods.