The great Grand County Christmas tree hunt is on |

The great Grand County Christmas tree hunt is on

Tonya Bina
Grand County, CO Colorado
Courtesy of U.S. Forest Service

FRASER – Finding a Christmas tree in the Fraser Valley has become a family tradition for Littleton residents Gordon and Ellin Hayes.

In the past 25 years of their annual holiday search for the “perfect tree,” the Hayes haven’t been without their share of adventure.

One year the family slid into the ditch on a U.S. Forest Service road, the year’s selection strapped to the roof of the car.

“I wasn’t paying attention,” Gordon said.

And while the couple waited for the tow truck to come along, “My wife found a tree near the road she liked better.”

Another year, “Our tree blew off on 285 almost in Denver. I hadn’t tied it particularly well.”

In the rearview mirror, Gordon saw the Christmas tree rise from his truck into a standing position, “then it was gone.” Quickly pulling over, Gordon was able to drag the tree off the freeway before a semi screamed by.

Although other Denverites might score their evergreens at tree lots and Home Depots, the Hayes “make a day” of finding a U.S. Forest Service tree each year. Where else can one find a 12-foot gem for the vaulted living room for $10?

“Now our kids also have vaulted ceilings,” Gordon said. “So we’re usually looking for three trees in the 12-foot range.”

A forest tree, he said, is never really a perfectly shaped tree you might find from tree farms. It may be sparse on one side from withstanding prevailing winds, and once the snow is shaken off, they’re not always as bushy as one might expect.

But for that sparse side, “You keep it close to the wall, it’s not a big deal,” Gordon said. And local trees less dense than the supermarket finds from Oregon are more preferable for showing off a lifetime’s collection of holiday ornaments.

“We like a tree we can load up with ornaments,” Gordon said.

Each year, Gordon will cut off the very top of the tree and round out its shape with clippers. For a few years, he even tried drilling holes into the lower parts of the trunk to insert branches in bare spots to fill out the tree, but this practice has since been forbidden by his wife because those branches die off much faster than the rest of the tree.

And if Gordon could give one word of advice to first-timers cutting down a tree: “Never cut a tree downhill from the road where you have to bring it uphill to the road.”

And for David Kafer of Grand Lake, a search and rescue volunteer who has been getting his family’s annual tree out of the Idleglen area for 10 years, the most important thing for tree-seekers is to “not get lost.”

Natural or artificial?

The drive to collecting a Christmas tree is worse on the environment than cutting down the tree, according to a scientific study by the Montreal group Ellipsos, conducted in 2009.

In the study, a natural tree compared to a similar artificial tree came out ahead in terms of carbon savings, when the shipping and resources used for artificial trees made in China were taken into account (where most artificial trees used in North America are made). The study said that clients who prefer artificial trees could reduce impacts on the environment by using the same tree for longer than 20 years.

In the Sulphur Ranger District, trees cut by permit serve to help other trees reach a larger size by making sunlight, water and nutrients more readily available to remaining trees, according to U.S. Forest Service Sulphur Ranger District Silviculturist Tony Saba. “This increases their vigor and this may help them ward off insect and diseases and also facilitates an increase in their sizes.”

Also, opening up stands can encourage new grasses and plants sought by herbivorous species, and eventually, new seedlings germinate, which “may become good Christmas trees in 15 years or 150 years,” Saba said.

“Although the dilemma between the natural and artificial Christmas trees will continue to surface every year before Christmas,” the Montreal study reads, “regardless of the chosen type of tree, the impacts on the environment are negligible compared to other activities, such as car use.”

Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603

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