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Searching for Christmas trees in Eagle County

Sarah Mausolf
Vail CO, Colorado

Forget picking up a Christmas tree at the lot. This year, Minturn residents Jane and Stuart Brummett will journey into the woods with a saw in search of the perfect fir.

“I prefer a fir,” Jane said. “I just think they have a spicy, citrusy smell to them and I love the smell in the house.”

This coming weekend, the Brummetts will venture into the forest between Minturn and Red Cliff, using a map from Minturn’s ranger station as a guide. Jane expects to hike a mile or two into the wilderness in search of a roughly 7-foot tree.

“We like to hike, so distance isn’t going to be a deterrent for us,” she said.

Once they drop the fir, the couple plans to drag it back to their Subaru and tie it on top.

The tree will adorn a wraparound window in their living room, where passersby on Main Street can see it.

For Jane, plucking a tree from the woods will be nostalgic. “It was a tradition for us to go out and try to find the perfect tree for our house, being out with my mom and dad and brother and sister,” she said.

Hitting the woods this weekend will give her a chance to rekindle the family ritual. “It’s a good way for Stu and I to start our own tradition and I just love being outside,” she said.

The Brummetts are among the roughly 1,000 people who buy permits to cut down their own trees in the Eagle/Holy Cross Ranger District each year.

“It provides a great recreation experience for an individual or families,” said Shelby Limberis, a forestry technician with the United States Department of Agriculture’s forest service, who works out of the Minturn ranger station.

Ranger stations in Minturn and Eagle are selling the permits for $10 through Monday, Dec. 24. Each permit is good for one tree and tree-seekers can buy up to five permits, Limberis said.

Those who swing by the station receive maps of the Eagle/Holy Cross Ranger District, which covers land north of I-70 from Vail Pass to Glenwood Canyon, and ranging from the Sheephorn area to Tennessee Pass.

Most of the land is fair game for tree-cutting, except for protected wilderness areas, campgrounds, Glenwood Canyon and land within 50 feet of roads, Limberis said.

One of the most popular hubs for tree-chopping is No Name, a forested area off Highway 24 near Camp Hale. The pulloff is roughly one mile past the entrance to Homestake campground.

“That’s been especially popular with families because it’s flat,” Limberis said.

Most of the evergreens in the woods are legal to cut. Lodgepole Pines, Engelmann Spruce and Subalpine are fine to drop but the Colorado Blue Spruce ” the state tree ” is off limits. The ranger station hands out a flier depicting the differences between the trees.

Proceeds from permit sales flow to program-related expenses such as signs and trail reconstruction while the rest goes to the national forest’s general treasury in Washington, D.C., Limberis said. About 250 people have bought permits from the Minturn office so far this season, she estimates.

Krystal Gauley will eschew her usual fake tree this year in favor of cutting down a real one.

The 24-year-old Minturn resident bought her permit this week and plans to score a tree this coming weekend. She and her boyfriend, Nook Robinson, aim to search the woods near Piney Lake for a roughly 5-foot tree.

“It’s a lot more traditional for my boyfriend and I to go out and pick one out together,” Gauley said. “It feels better than to just buy one. It’s a whole day we can spend driving around together in the woods.”

Lynn Espersen, support services specialist at the ranger station in Eagle, estimates the tree-cutting program dates back at least two decades.

“It’s a lot of fun to do,” she said. “You go out and find your own tree. It’s a good family event. There’s a lot of people who enjoy doing that: Going out in the woods, Getting in touch with nature.”


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