For many people, a storybook Christmas involves heading out to the forest and hiking through the snow to find the perfect Christmas tree, then sawing it down and trucking it back home, where it is displayed through the holidays.
That can be a reality for anyone who buys a Christmas tree permit from the U.S. Forest Service.
"It's fairly popular, and it's getting more popular as people want to have the whole experience of cutting their tree," said Lee Duerksen, a visitor information officer with the Yampa District of the Routt National Forest.
"I think it's a fun family activity for a lot of people, and it's kind of a fun kick-off for the whole season," she said.
A permit allows a person to cut down any evergreen tree. Good types of trees to choose include Supalpine firs, which have short, soft needles, Lodgepole Pines, which have long needles, or Englemann Spruces, which have short, sharp needles. All are easy to find, have the shape that most people want, and are easy to carry out, Duerksen said.
Colorado Blue Spruce trees also are popular but are more difficult to find.
Anyone interested can stop by a Forest Service office to get tips on identifying trees and on where to find good trees.
For example, in the Yampa District, popular spots for finding a tree include the Dunckley Pass and Gore Pass areas, Duerksen said. There also are restricted areas where trees cannot be cut, which include the Bear River Corridor in the Yampa District.
To find a good tree, people first need to look 100 feet off the road. They should be sure to bring the permit with them, and tie the permit to the trunk of the tree as soon as it is cut. Trees must be no greater than 20 feet high and 6 inches in diameter.
A saw and a sled are key, and people should be prepared to walk through snow, Duerksen said.
After finding a good tree, people should dig out snow around the base of the tree to find the lowest branch and cut below the lowest branches. Otherwise, Duerksen said, a new tree will keep growing from the living branch and make for a deformed tree.
If branches are cut before the tree is taken out, it's best to scatter the branches instead of leaving them in one clump, she said.
Families who are displaying a tree in a corner, they can help improve the health of the forest by finding a tree at the edge of a large clump of trees, she said. Sometimes trees at the edge of a clump may have sparse needles on one side, but by cutting that tree, the other trees will have a chance to grow in a more healthy way.
Any tree cut down from the forest likely will be fresher and less expensive than those bought at a tree stand.
The permits are sold at the U.S. Forest Service offices in Steamboat Springs and Yampa, and cost $10 per tree. A household can buy up to five permits, but trees cannot be resold. Trees must be cut by Dec. 31. For more information, call 870-1870 or 638-4516.
-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org