BY MICHELLE SCHMIDTBeing in fourth grade has its perks — and this year, one of them is that there’s a free Christmas tree waiting in a nearby national forest.
As part of Every Kid in a Park, a new White House initiative, the permit fee to collect a Christmas tree will be waived in both the Umatilla and Nez Perce-Clearwater national forests for fourth-graders holding the park pass available from www.everykidinapark.gov. To get the free permit, kids must bring their printed pass — along with a parent or guardian — to a Forest Service office.
For everyone else, that Christmas tree will cost $5; either way, cutting down your own tree isn’t just about saving money.
“It’s about the experience, the outdoor experience — that’s what people always say,” said Laura Smith, public affairs specialist for the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest.
Heading out to the woods to cut down a tree often becomes a tradition, Smith said, and many families make a day of it, adding sledding and a warm thermos of drinks to the outing.
Getting your tree the old-fashioned way, however, involves more than just hot cocoa and holiday cheer. Each national forest has different rules and procedures, so check in with the Forest Service office where you plan to visit before piling into the family car. Here’s what the adventure entails:
Prepare and pack for your trip
Christmas tree permits can be purchased both at forest offices and at authorized vendors. Besides the permit, you’ll need a saw to cut your tree down; consider bringing a tree lopper, tarp and rope to trim branches and protect the tree from wind on the drive home.
The Forest Service also recommends bringing emergency supplies; heading into the woods in the winter carries more risks than a trek to a parking lot lined with pre-cut trees. Wear warm clothes and bring a first-aid kit, food, extra blankets and basic survival kit, along with tire chains and a shovel. Don’t forget to tell someone where you’re going in case you get stuck or lost.
Locate your tree
If it’s your first time cutting down a tree, Smith recommends contacting the Forest Service office to get suggestions on good cutting areas. They’ll also have information on road conditions and access; some roads are closed to wheeled vehicles in the winter regardless of weather conditions.
When it comes to Christmas trees, everyone has their own preferences, said Randy Pritchett, business administrator at the Umatilla National Forest office in Pomeroy. Grand firs and Douglas firs are a popular Christmas tree choice in the area, he said, just stay away from the tamaracks, unless you’re going for a yellow or bare tree look in your holiday decor. Check forest regulations regarding tree size and proximity to roads and other high-use areas.
Cut down your tree, clean up and haul it home
Use a handsaw to cut down your tree as close to the ground as possible. Pile leftover branches away from roads and ditches and carefully carry it to your vehicle. Once you’re home, cut another couple inches off the trunk and place it immediately in water.
Get more Christmas tree information for the Umatilla National Forest online at www.fs.usda.gov/detail/umatilla/passes-permits/forestproducts/?cid=fsbdev7_016114 and for the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest at www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fsm91_055551.pdf.