Oh Christmas tree: Lessons learned from a tree-cutting excursion
It was a perfect plan.
If only it had worked.
I’m still more than happy with the tree my girlfriend Megan and I selected and sawed — and will adorn with flashing lights and shiny ornaments for the next month or so — but I’ll readily admit it skews closer to Charlie Brown than Rockefeller Center.
We purchased our Christmas tree cutting permit from the Forest Service on Wednesday morning before embarking out into the chilly yet still unseasonably warm morning toward Sunlight Resort.
Pulling into Babbish Gulch Trailhead’s parking lot that morning, my Honda Accord sat alone adjacent to the Four Mile Creek bed. To the south of the creek stands an abundance of spruces and firs — all ideal for festive decor. To the north, in the light of the sun and more traversable with an offroading trail and emphatically less snow: a sea of leafless aspens, pale, lifeless and beyond their use for visual appeal.
White River National Forest timber and fuels program manager Doug Leyva told me that this area is among the most popular across the entire forest for Christmas tree hunting. He added that trees in open areas with room to grow and get direct sunlight will grow more evenly.
“Everyone wants to look for that perfect tree that you would get from the store, but that’s not how trees grow in nature,” Leyva said.
With this in mind and my Google satellite imagery scouting ahead of time, Megan, myself and our puppy Nola opted for the aspen-laden hill. I believed the aspens would have deterred the crowds ahead of me and hidden some true gems.
If the picturesque, perfectly conical fir or spruce does hide within the bushes and aspens, we didn’t find it. Keeping our eyes on the clock, we eventually dove into the woodland, eyeing some coniferous giants off the path with the hope that they were indicative of smaller trees in the patch.
We narrowed it down to two spruces, as the preferred douglas fir was nowhere to be found. One was taller and had branches distributed more evenly, but sparser. We opted for one about 8 feet in height, growing in the shadow of one of the lighthouse-like trees that pulled us there.
Its base is contorted and bent as it tried desperately to reach into the path of the sun in its youth. Its branches are sporadic in location and length as a secondary effort to catch the rays.
What: Christmas tree cutting
Where: White River National Forest
It has character.
For my relatively new family, it’s maybe the start of a new tradition. For Megan, who was born and raised in Carbondale, I was shocked to learn she hadn’t gone out and cut down her own tree before. For myself, it was an experience I hadn’t had in probably close to a decade. It’s also cheaper than grabbing a tree from the store and has small ecological benefits.
“If you cut one down, especially if it’s in a group of other trees, you’re giving the trees that are remaining more access to water and nutrients and sunlight, helping them grow,” Leyva said. “It’s considerably cheaper. It’s something that anybody can do. They can get out there with a little hand saw, take the family out and create memories as a family in the forest.”
I didn’t land the diamond-in-the-rough I was searching for, but we’ve got a piece of timber to set our decorations on and put our presents under, and Nola got a new chew toy from cutting down the stump.
Christmas tree permits are available for $10 through recreation.gov — which tacks on a $2.50 service fee — or local vendors like Roaring Fork Valley Coop in Carbondale, Big John’s Ace Hardware in Glenwood Springs and Timberline Sporting Goods in Rifle.
Trees can have no diameter larger than six inches and no height greater than 15 feet and must be cut in White River National Forest lands that aren’t protected wilderness.
Full maps and information are available on the Forest Service’s website, fs.usda.gov or by calling your local district office.
Reporter Rich Allen can be reached at 970-384-9131 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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