If you’re a stickler for an old-fashioned Christmas, you may be venturing into the woods this year, ala Clark Griswold to chop down your own yuletide tree.
Many tree farms still provide this experience for customers willing to make the extra effort. Surprisingly, selected nature preserves, state and national forests also are open to controlled tree-chopping activities, though you may really have to go hunting for these locations.
Here’s the Nature Conservancy’s list of forest preserves where you can cut down your own tree because thinning the trees is needed for the health of the local ecosystems. If you happen to live near one of these five Nature Conservancy preserves, and you’ve got the Griswold itch, you’re in luck!
Preserves for holiday trees (or wreaths):
- Lizard Tail Swamp Preserve, New Jersey: Nature Conservancy staff will help you cut down a red cedar or a pitch pine tree. Removing these species will help to restore open field habitat that’s good for migratory birds, such as warblers, and for pollinating insects. Guests are asked to bring materials to secure the tree to their vehicle for transport.
- Davis Mountains Preserve, Texas: At the Davis Mountain Preserve, regular tree thinning is essential for wildfire prevention and for maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Each year the Conservancy opens the preserve and invites the public to cut their own Christmas trees. You can read one Texan’s account of hunting for a tree at Davis Mountains Preserve online.
- Western Montana: Outside Missoula, Montana, Conservancy staff are gathering trees on former industrial timber land that has now been preserved for wildlife and recreation. These trees are then donated to local Missoula children’s charities. Watch a video of this event.
- Chattahoochee Fall Line Project, Georgia: the Conservancy is providing sand pine, a non-native invasive pine tree, for a wreath-making workshop at the Oxbow Meadows Environmental Learning Center on December 1. The sand pines are removed to make way for longleaf pine, a now-rare forest habitat that historically dominated the South.
- Jim Beam Nature Preserve, Kentucky: Clearing Eastern red cedars to make room for hardwood seedlings at the Jim Beam Nature Preserve proved so successful that there are not enough trees for the annual Christmas giveaway this year. Make sure to pay a visit anyway!
The Nature Conservancy, like many green groups, considers the debate over which type of Christmas tree is more eco-friendly — the faux tree or the real tree — to be settled.
Real trees are “greener” because they’re renewable, store carbon while they’re alive and can be turned to useful wood chips and compost at the end of their holiday duties. See the video (below) by the Nature Conservancy for more.