Cut your own tree for $5 in national forests

We cut down our Christmas tree earlier this week. It’s an annual tradition, begun when Ursula was only six months old and I carried her in a front pack, her small fingers wrapped around one of mine while we breathed in the scent of balsam, and Jim crawled under our chosen tree with a bow saw.

The other day, Ursula insisted on walking the entire length of every row of trees in search of this year’s perfect tree. Once again she found it. She’s getting to be pretty handy with a saw and an axe, but she and I held the tree while Jim sawed through the base. We left the tree out on the porch overnight; I smelled balsam all evening.

If I’d known earlier about a tree-cutting program through the U.S. Forest Service in the White Mountain and Green Mountain National Forests, I might have lobbied to go another step — or thousand steps — and walk into the woods to find our Christmas tree instead of going to a tree farm. Permits cost only $5 and the time and energy to tromp around in the forest.

It’s not too late: You can buy tree-cutting permits through Thursday, December 23, at White Mountain National Forest offices in Gorham, Conway, Campton, and Lincoln, in New Hampshire; and at Green Mountain National Forest offices in Rutland, Middlebury, Manchester Center, and Rochester, Vermont.

The White Mountain National Forest website even gives advice on the best trees to cut. Many people, the site says, prefer balsam fir because of its fragrant smell and needle retention. That’s certainly true for our family. Others prefer spruce for their full branches and classic shape. The guidelines conclude with this advice: “Keep in mind that a wild tree may not have the perfect appearance of a commercial tree. Be prepared to do some real searching. Somewhere out there is your ideal Christmas tree.”

Maybe we’ll look for next year’s perfect tree in the forest…

Learn more

- Green Mountain and White Mountain National Forests list guidelines and requirements for the tree-cutting permits.
- Read a Boston Globe story about cutting down a tree in the White Mountain National Forest (December 14, 2010).

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

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