Forest Finds

By Diane Schlindwein

September 5, 2008 5 min read

FOREST FINDS

The hunt is on to find the best holiday tree

Diane Schlindwein

Creators News Service

For some people, finding the perfect Christmas tree is more fun than actually decorating it. That's why, in many families, an annual trip to a tree farm is the perfect beginning to the holiday season.

Fresh Christmas tree seekers are in good company. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, Inc., about 30 to 35 million evergreens are sold in the United States every year. Lucky for those real tree fans, there are about 21,000 Christmas tree growers in this country.

In Athens, Ill., Frank Farms, Inc. is a small part of this national tree-growing movement. After spending more than 20 years in the Christmas tree business, Kay Frank knows the memories of picking out a special tree last way past the holiday season.

When it comes to selecting a tree, Frank says that beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder. "Some people like the Charlie Brown kind of Christmas tree that they can decorate with all kinds of ornaments," she said of the several thousand people who annually roam her 30-acre tree farm. "Others painfully look for hours to find the perfect tree. We are patient. We just let them look as long as they want and then we cut it for them."

Almost a thousand miles away in Newcastle, Wyo., Barb Tschacher said she and her family have spent as many as four hours searching the Black Hills National Forest for a tree. "We go to the forest service office and buy a permit for just $8," she explained. "Out here a lot of people tag their own tree and cut it down themselves," she said. "We can pick from native pines, spruce and cedar trees -- however we can't cut a tree that is less than six feet tall."

Locating a tree in the forest can be "quite an adventure" and "makes for some good family stories," Tschacher said. "One year we maneuvered around a herd of elk. The roads were icy and we couldn't stop. Luckily, we didn't hit any of them. Oh, and one time I got lost. That was exciting."

Forests aren't nearly as crowded as tree farms, she added. "Sometimes we are the only people there looking and sometimes there are other people around. It depends on the day and the weather. You really have to look, because it is a little bit difficult to find the perfect tree in the national forest." Still, the pine trees that the family favors are always a fine addition to their log home.

Christmas trees not only look and smell nice, but they are good for you, too. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, an acre of Christmas trees produces enough daily oxygen for 18 people.

Nature lovers don't have to worry about cutting and eventually discarding a Christmas tree. Normally, for every tree that is cut, three seedlings are planted in its place the next spring. The top-selling Christmas trees are balsam fir, Douglas fir, Fraser fir, noble fir, Scotch pine, Virginia pine and white pine.

Keep in mind, however, that all Christmas trees don't grow in every climate. For example, the Frank family grows and sells white pines, Scotch pines, Canaan firs, Douglas firs and Fraser firs. However, because balsam trees are popular but don't grow well in Illinois, the Franks bring those in from out of state suppliers.

In the spirit of the season, Frank Farms annually donates at least 10 Illinois-grown Scotch pines to Trees for Troops. That organization sends more than 11,000 trees from 27 states to troops in over 20 U.S. military bases, plus Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Qatar and Behrain.

When setting out to find your own favorite tree closer to home, Frank suggests wearing comfortable shoes or boots and layered outerwear. Don't forget a camera, because you'll want photos of your holiday adventure.

To find a place to cut your own evergreen, check out either of these Websites: realchristmastrees.org or pickyourown.org. Both sites not only have listings of Christmas tree farms all over the United States, but they offer more information about types of trees, as well as more advice on finding the perfect tree and keeping it fresh through the holiday season.

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