Choose and Cut

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  • Shoshana Cooper, saw in hand, trudges through deep snow in the forest, in search of the perfect Christmas tree.

  • 1

    Cut trees at Rusty Gate Tree Farm. (Photos by KEITH ERICKSON)

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    Trees growing at Rusty Gate farm in Harrison.

  • Shoshana Cooper, saw in hand, trudges through deep snow in the forest, in search of the perfect Christmas tree.

  • 1

    Cut trees at Rusty Gate Tree Farm. (Photos by KEITH ERICKSON)

  • 2

    Trees growing at Rusty Gate farm in Harrison.

Oh, the sweet smell of a fresh-cut Christmas tree. For many, the fragrance is even sweeter when you cut the tree yourself.

While the “perfect tree” can be picked up at stores most anywhere during the holiday season, many tree-seekers prefer to hunt for their own, with roots still in the ground—be it on a tree farm or in the wilderness.

Freshly harvested trees may not be perfectly groomed like those in the stores, but there is a certain sense of satisfaction of “doing it yourself,” according to those who choose to roll up their sleeves and saw down their own.

Kimberly Blaine-Fisher, whose family has owned property in the Twin Lakes area north of Rathdrum for generations, says searching for and cutting down holiday trees has been a tradition for decades.

“It’s special and it’s beautiful and it’s a family affair,” she says. “We just tromp around, sometimes it’s knee-deep in snow, to find fresh trees. They smell so good. They’re not perfect, but they’re perfect for our house.”

Throughout the region, there are opportunities to journey off the beaten path and cut your own tree.

“It is a lot of fun and it creates lasting memories,” says Shoshana Cooper, public affairs officer for the Idaho Panhandle National Forest.

Permits to cut your own tree on U.S. Forest Service property are only $5 and can be obtained at any of the agency’s regional offices, including its headquarters at 3815 Schreiber Way in northern Coeur d’Alene off Kathleen Avenue.

EXPLORING THE FOREST

Like Blaine-Fisher, Cooper says searching and cutting a Christmas tree is an important holiday tradition for her family and always involves her two boys, Jayden and Taylor, and their dog, Tug.

“There’s always a hike involved as we search for the ‘perfect’ tree—Charlie Brown has nothing on us,” Cooper says with a smile. “The boys decide on the tree, take turns sawing with a hand saw, and they pack it out together.”

The reward for the hard work of hunting down and harvesting a tree, Cooper says, is a thermos of hot cocoa waiting for her boys back at the car when they’re done.

“It’s always an adventure,” she says.

For those who prefer a little more convenient cut-your-own experience, there are several tree farms across the region.

John Myhre, owner of Rusty Gate Tree Farm in Harrison, has been growing trees since 1984 on his 60-acre farm. With literally thousands of trees on his property, Myhre says business is steady, but the dry summer took a toll.

“Eighty days of no rain was hard on us,” he says.

Still, Rusty Gate has a plethora of trees available, including Turkish pine, grand fir, nordmann fir and spruce.

Myhre cuts his trees weekly and, as a small operation, usually has about 30 to 40 available “on the rack.” Half his sales are purchased already cut while the other half are cut down by the buyer or, if requested, by Myhre or his staff.

Trees vary in size and are competitive in cost compared with retail outlets, he says. Up to 10 feet, the cost is $40. Above that will cost the consumer $75.

Myhre says tree costs over the past few years have been moderate.

“The prices haven’t gone up. It’s actually a heck of a bargain. For the price of a 12-inch poinsettia, you can get a 10-foot Christmas tree.”

TIPS FOR CUTTING YOUR OWN

When cutting your own tree in the National Forest, Cooper offered these tips:

Purchase your tree permit. If you are not able to drive to the office headquarters, you can purchase the passes online at https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/ipnf/passes-permits

Don’t forget a saw and tie-downs if you’re carrying the tree home on the roof of the car. And be sure the tree trunk is facing the front of the vehicle.

Be prepared for an outing in winter weather. Know where you plan to go and let someone else know where you’ll be, just in case something happens. Dress warm with layers, bring food and water, and be sure your vehicle has snow tires.

Take pictures. Not just for family memories, but to share with others. You can post photos of your tree cutting experiences on the Idaho Panhandle National Forest Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/USFSIPNF

CHERISHED TRADITION

Back at Twin Lakes, Blaine-Fisher says there is no better option to picking a tree than venturing into the outback and nabbing your own.

“My dad’s probably been doing it his entire life and he’s 77,” she says. “This goes back to the early 1900s. It’s family tradition. I mean, that’s just the way it’s been done. There is no other option.”

Kimberly Blain-Fisher:

“We just tromp around, sometimes it’s knee-deep in snow, to find fresh trees. They’re not perfect, but they’re perfect for our house.”

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