Steamboat Springs Truckloads of firs and spruce trees arrived early last week in Steamboat Springs much to the chagrin of businesses and charitable groups and organizations.
Christmas trees can be a difficult sell a few days before Thanksgiving in Northwest Colorado when the temperature averages a comfortable 60 degrees and snow is a distant memory.
But snow fell Thursday, bringing a welcome change to the dry landscape, and a sigh of relief from Steamboat Lions Club member Bob Grippa.
Volunteers unloaded about 200 trees last Saturday for the club's annual Christmas tree sale in the empty lot adjacent to the Alpiner Lodge at Fifth and Lincoln.
Grippa said he could not recall a time when volunteers sold trees with no snow on the ground.
"It's a little hard for people to want to go and buy a Christmas tree when it still feels like fall," he said.
When Grippa arrived Saturday morning to help customers find the perfect tree, he found the Frazer firs, Douglas firs and blue spruce trees blanketed in snow.
"A few days ago, we were thinking we would have to hose the trees down if we didn't get some moisture," he said. "Now we've got plenty."
The snow preserves the trees' lifespan, Grippa said, but people who take home a tree can further ensure its longevity by chopping off the very bottom of its trunk and keeping it in a bucket of water for 24 hours.
Hydrating trees at the beginning negates the need to constantly add water to the tree stand, he added.
Many people turned out Friday as part of their tradition of purchasing a tree the day after Thanksgiving, but the early holiday means that tree buying will only increase over the next few weeks, volunteer Jerome Delhaute said.
"It took some time for people to get into the Christmas spirit," Delhaute said. "But with the snow, and as we come upon December, we'll see more people here for their trees."
Vic and Jan Serafy came for their trees Saturday afternoon.
The couple buys two trees every year from the Steamboat Lions Club one for their living room and one for the birds.
Jan Serafy said she enjoys giving the birds a place to nest during the winter. She secures the tree against a fence outside and places it in a large bucket of water, until she removes it sometime in March.
"The aspen trees are bare in our yard, so this gives the birds some place to go," she said.
Serafy said she considered an artificial tree in the past, but nothing captures the fragrance of the forest as a real fir.
The Lions Club also gives its Christmas tree sale proceeds back to the community, a practice the couple agreed kept them coming back year after year.
The club usually sells all of its trees by the second week in December.
Kim Cox and her son, Daniel, sold trees Saturday to raise money for Steamboat Springs United Methodist youth group's mission projects.
About 75 trees were propped outside the church for mother and son to show to interested passersby.
People usually have a certain tree in mind when they go looking for a Christmas tree, Kim Cox said.
"The people who came today wanted them tall and skinny," she said.
Early morning snowfall gave mother and son more work to do, as they tried to brush the snow off tree branches for closer inspection by tree buyers.
City Market Manager Eric Widner said he's not too worried about all the Christmas trees still standing outside his store.
Some customers may hold off until the middle of December to buy their trees, he said.
"Thanksgiving came so early this year that many people who might buy their tree right after Thanksgiving are waiting a little longer to do so," Widner said.
People in search of Christmas trees with minimal upkeep flocked to Wal-Mart on the day after Thanksgiving, Wal-Mart Assistant Manager Jose Alarcon said.
Many artificial trees, from 6.5-foot pre-lit Douglas firs to 3-foot pines still remain in stock.
Diehards convinced that the perfect Christmas tree cannot be found in a Christmas tree lot with dozens of other precut trees can head to Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and Hahn's Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District.
The U.S. Forest Service offices in Yampa and Steamboat Springs offer Christmas tree permits for $10, with a limit of five trees per person.
Permit holders must follow certain guidelines when cutting down trees. The guidelines, however, are not as strict as in other Forest Service areas, Wendy Holden, Forest Service public information technician, said.
"We have a whole lot more trees and fewer people," Holden said. "We have the leeway to allow people to take more from the forest without making a dent in the forest."
The Fish Creek Falls Recreation Area, Steamboat Ski Area, Freeman Recreation Area, Sherman Youth Camp and timber sale areas are closed to Christmas tree cutting.
The Forest Service sells about 1,200 to 1,500 Christmas tree permits every year, Holden said, but people purchase them all year long.
"They've bought them in July when you would think that was the last thing on anyone's mind," she said. "But most of them start coming for their permits around Thanksgiving."
Holden suggested that people bring shovels along to dig down to the tree's base, to ensure the cut leaves a stump no higher than six inches.
Cutting at snow level may leave three- and four-foot stumps that could injure unsuspecting snowmobilers and wildlife in the early spring, she said.
The process of selecting the perfect tree in a forest filled with trees may seem tedious, Holden said, but permit holders should also be prepared to use a little creativity to haul away their prize once it has been spotted.
People often ski out to a preferred site and bring back the tree with a sled.
"It's exercise, it's a day in the outdoors," she said. "If real trees are your thing, it's a great thing for families to do together."
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