Getting a national forest tree is a family tradition |

Getting a national forest tree is a family tradition

Alex Zorn
Jonah and Hollis Kelley drag this year's Christmas tree back from the White River National Forest to their home in Glenwood. To make things easier they placed the tree on a tarp for their walk back.
Provided |

This is as traditional as Christmas gets. While many families choose to buy their Christmas trees from lots or opt for artificial trees, many go into the woods themselves to pick out their family’s perfect tree, chop it down and bring it home.

This year, 4,428 Christmas tree permits were sold for the White River National Forest, according to Doug Leyva, timber and fuels program manager with the U.S. Forest Service, a slight increase from last year’s 4,332 permits.

The White River Forest of course is one of America’s most used, but the tree program is popular nationwide, with 212,414 Christmas tree permits sold from all national forests.

Families often fall in love with the program.

“My husband and I moved here about 20 years ago and we both grew up buying trees, but we quickly noticed how much people around here enjoy to get their own tree, so we started doing it about 15 years ago,” said Glenwood Springs resident Anne-Marie Kelley. “My daughter would kill us if we broke tradition. We almost had to do it without her this year and she started to cry.”

Kelley and the rest of her family will usually head out to White River National Forest on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and spend the day canvassing and looking for their perfect tree.

“My mother buys her tree out in St. Louis the same as ours and she spends $300 plus. We get ours for $10,” she added.

Each member of the family puts on a pair of snowshoes and heads to the forest dragging a sled behind them with which to bring the tree back on. This year they used a tarp.

“Sometimes we get lucky and it takes less than an hour to find our tree,” she explained. “Other years we’ll be out there for hours looking for the perfect tree. It’s never been more popular than it was this year, but there’s still plenty of room for everybody.”

Helping the Forest

For the Kelleys, going out into the forest and finding their own unique tree to bring home has become part of the holiday tradition. Without it Christmas just wouldn’t be the same.

“One of my friends got their tree at Whole Foods and it’s gorgeous, but it just doesn’t have the same story ours does,” she said. “I could never see us going back to the tree lot.”

It costs $10 to get a permit from the White River National Forest and each year it grows in popularity. Even a veteran like Kelley was blown away by how many people were out at the forest this year.

The Forest Service sees an ecological upside.

“A lot of the trees that the families are chopping down are smaller trees that wouldn’t necessarily benefit the forest in the future,” Leyva said. “It helps the forest when people go out to cut their own trees because then there are more resources for the neighboring trees.”

“There’s thousands of trees per acre in the White River National Forest and we’re selling around 4,000 permits for the entire forest,” he added.

A portion of the money that is collected from the sale of permits is used in the district in which the permit was sold. It can be used to pay for a variety of activities, including reforestation, invasive species treatment, recreation area improvement, watershed improvement activities, stream improvements, wildlife habitat improvement and more.

In 2017, the Forest Service will be starting an e-permitting for Christmas tree sales where members of the public can buy their permit digitally. That will save a trip to ranger district offices to buy permits.

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