Boulder cancels free Christmas tree program
BOULDER, Colo. – There won’t be any free cut-your-own Christmas trees in Boulder this year.
The city is calling off a four-year-old program that invited people to chop their own trees on city-owned open space. Boulder officials said the Christmas tree invite has been canceled because of budget cuts and because the open space forest is sufficiently thinned.
City officials say they don’t have $4,000 to spend on staff members to guide the roughly 1,000 tree-seekers through the wilderness atop Flagstaff Mountain.
And Steve Mertz, a spokesman for Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks Department, told the Camera newspaper that the mountain’s tree reserve is tapped out.
“Part of the reason we do this is for fire mitigation and to stop the spread of pine beetles,” he said. “But the area we have been working in for years is kind of out of trees.”
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Boulder residents who had made the tree-cutting a holiday tradition were saddened by the news. Some had taken to gathering on Flagstaff Road after the cutting for carols and hot chocolate.
“It really added to the whole festive feeling of Christmas,” resident Durango Steele told the newspaper.
Mertz said the funding cut comes because of low sales-tax receipts. The city’s open space program relies heavily on sales taxes for funding. Boulder sales tax collections were down 7.5 percent in August, the most recent month with available data. It was the 12th consecutive month of declining revenue for the city.
“We are 97 percent tax-based,” Mertz said. “So when that goes down, we take a larger hit than other government agencies.”
To host the tree-cutting in previous years, the department paid seasonal workers from its outreach budget, which was cut 80 percent this year due to the sales-tax drop, Mertz said. Even though AmeriCorps volunteers helped out last year, Mertz said, the department had too few outreach employees to even start organizing the event.
Melissa Fernandez Reed of Boulder said she and her husband have taken their 3-year-old son to get a Christmas tree from Flagstaff for two years now. She had hoped to make it a family tradition.
“That makes me so sad,” she said of the cancellation.
A city Web site announcing the cancellation directed tree-cutters to other opportunities through the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado state park system.