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Cut a tree, create a memory

Patrick Lair
Office of Communication

After the leaves have fallen and the cold weather settles in, national forests and grasslands continue to offer memorable experiences for those willing to bundle up and find them.

A picture showing an adult and a young child walking through a snowy path in the forest.  The young child is pulling a tree wrapped in a tarp.
For the Fenolia family, an outing to harvest the perfect Christmas tree has become an annual tradition (Courtesy of Jacob Fenolia)

When Jacob Fenolia moved to Laramie, Wyo. in 2014 with his wife, Amy, and his son, J.J., they started what has become a family holiday tradition. “Equipped with snowshoes, a saw, and a sled, we had a blast looking for a good tree that would also help leave the forest better by harvesting it,” he said.

Fenolia’s tradition, now in its seventh year, includes an annual family snowshoe outing combined with sledding to harvest the perfect Christmas tree somewhere on the 2.9-million-acre Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and Thunder Basin National Grassland.

A picture of an adult on snowshoes and a young child on a small, round sled.
Jacob Fenolia and his son J.J. find the perfect Christmas tree on the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and Thunder Basin National Grassland (Courtesy of Jacob Fenolia)

“Each year we have expanded the tradition, even heading up in summer months to scout out potential trees,” Fenolia said, adding that he and his family now look forward to their annual trek once Thanksgiving is over.

Harvesting a Christmas tree is open and available to everyone even though not every national forest and grassland participates in the Christmas tree program. Last year, the Forest Service issued more than 200,000 permits nationwide.

The Gifford Pinchot National Forest, headquartered in Vancouver, Wash., has made a tradition of reaching out to underserved communities every winter to welcome them to public lands and help them find a Christmas tree. This year, the national forest is working with Portland, Ore.-based groups like Big Brothers Big Sisters Columbia Northwest and Urban Nature Partners PDX, in addition to women and children living at a domestic violence shelter.

The event includes a trip to the national forest where employees talk to the visitors about nature, help them harvest a tree, and provide homemade tree stands. They will also have s’mores and a bonfire.

A picture of a young man in a forested area.
A young man enjoys a s’more on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest during an annual Christmas tree harvest event in 2018. (USDA Forest Service photo provided by Gala Miller)

“One of the things that’s really cool is when I ask people if they’ve ever visited a national forest before, and most people say they never have,” said Gala Miller, a public affairs officer and one of the event organizers. “We’re giving people a positive experience with public lands and letting them know that these lands are for you, too.”

Find your perfect tree

A picture of a family of three carrying a tree in a forested area.
Visitors and employees work together to find and harvest a Christmas tree on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. (USDA Forest Service photo provided by Gala Miller)

Getting a Christmas tree permit is even easier this year with online permits available for purchase through Permits are also available at Forest Service offices and from local vendors. If purchasing online, visitors simply search for their local national forest from a list or map. Each unit will provide important details like cutting area maps, types of trees to cut, and important planning tips on their respective permit pages. Visitors will need to print the permit and display it on the dash of their vehicle on the day of their visit to cut their trees.

Fourth graders with an Every Kid Outdoors pass are eligible to receive a free Christmas tree permit. They can either bring the voucher to their local Forest Service office or they can apply online by entering the pass or voucher number when purchasing a permit. Additionally, kids of all ages can download, color, and decorate their tree with a Christmas tree ornament coloring page for a fun, handmade addition to their tree.

It is always best to check in with the local ranger district before venturing out to a national forest or grassland, especially in winter. The local districts are aware of current conditions and they can steer visitors to the best maps and other important travel information.

For more tips and best practices from the Forest Service on harvesting a Christmas tree, check out these quick videos: O Christmas Tree: Tips for Successful Christmas Tree Hunting and Our Christmas Tree Permit Tradition, or visit the US Forest Service Christmas trees website.