Christmas tree cutting in Golden Gate Canyon Park

Well-loved tradition a must for many at the holidays

by Patty Unruh

It’s not the presents under the Christmas tree that count – it’s the presence of friends and family gathered to search out the perfect live tree and happily bring it home together.

For many, hunting and cutting the Christmas tree is a cherished custom that is not to be missed. Golden Gate Canyon State Park met the desire of those hoping to bring home that fresh pine or spruce by opening sales of Christmas tree permits on November 13. 200 permits at $25 each were sold out within a couple of hours. The limit was two per family, and the tree cutting event was held only on Saturday, December 1.

On that day, a long line of folks waited with good-humored anticipation for the doors of the park’s Visitor Center on Highway 46 to open at 9:00 a.m.

Most of the visitors were from the metro area or Boulder, but there were a few Gilpinites. Singles, families, neighborhood parties, and even a hearing-impaired group all shared their love of this tradition.

A group of grade-school girls from Superior discussed the special decorations that would beautify their trees.

“My nutcracker!” “A Santa Claus!” “White and yellow lights!”

When the doors opened at last, the crowd surged in to enjoy a large lighted tree, sip steaming cups of coffee and cocoa, and get their pre-ordered permits. Santa Claus kindly heard kiddies’ wishes and invited them to plunge their small hands into his overflowing bag to get a toy. A handy helper doled out candy canes.

The tree cutting is immensely popular and has been offered every year since 2003, except for 2013 when flooding hit the area. People began early to look online or call Colorado Parks and Recreation to find out where tree cutting would be available. It was necessary to come in person on November 13 to the Golden Gate Visitor Center to get a permit.

“There was a huge line – it wound around the building,” one permit-holder commented. “I waited in line for two hours and got one of the last ten permits. There was only one staff member to wait on all the people.”

Even though the process wasn’t perfect, he added that it was a great event loved by the whole family. “We did it for years with our kids and are now coming with the grandkids.”

Senior Ranger Colin Chisholm advised that twenty staff members worked the event, both paid and volunteers. They manned tables to hand out the permits that folks had pre-purchased, handed out maps, and answered questions. People were also invited to donate to the Gilpin County Food Bank. “We had around 1,000 people in the park on Saturday. People could show up at the Visitor Center on the day tree permits went on sale or call and pay for one by phone. We had five staff at the Visitor Center when permits went on sale, three worked the counter and two answered phones. The tree cutting was moved to a one day event to cut down on staffing time for the event and to conserve the cut area.”

Chisholm reported receiving some complaints about the permit sale process, so park staff are going to reevaluate how they sell permits for 2019.

Chain saws were not allowed, but hand saws, axes, and hatchets were permitted. Cutting was allowed in one large area off of Crawford Gulch Road from the Bridge Creek parking area down to the Red Barn Group Picnic Area. The tree cutting area was open to the general public, but driving on the Nott Creek service road was restricted to individuals with tree permits. Beyond that, a valid parks pass allowed parking within the state park.

Cut trees could not exceed 15 feet in height, and the trunk had to be 6 inches or less in diameter. Varieties included spruce, white pine, and Ponderosa pine.

The park was fairly busy on December 1, with visitors not only cutting trees but also enjoying hiking, photography, and fishing. The day was brisk and sunny, but there was not enough snow to go cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or sledding. Those are other activities park visitors enjoy during the winter.

After warming up in the Visitor Center, participants headed out in their SUVs and pickup trucks in search of the perfect tree. Of course, all Christmas trees are perfect, but people differed on what they were looking for. Some wanted tall, full trees. Others hoped for a “Charlie Brown” that would let them see the ornaments through the branches.

“I just want what looks good,” said a practical Golden resident.

A group of 12 families from a Superior neighborhood, including 31 children, was enjoying homemade chili and a bonfire at the Red Barn picnic area. The fire was kindled by park staff, but the neighbors brought their own food. They observe this tradition annually at whatever site is open. Laughing and talking, they shared the camaraderie that made this ritual so special.

“We’ve been doing this for eleven years,” said organizers “Dave” and “Tracy,” noting that the group would hike the whole mountain to find the best trees.

“Weather doesn’t matter. We’ve been out in the snow and wind. It’s our favorite tradition of the Christmas holiday,” they declared.

A family from Denmark was included in the group this year. The Danish folks are here for the next couple of years due to a job assignment and felt a bit bummed at not being home for Christmas.

“This will help them make some good memories to take back,” Tracy hoped.

The Danish mom contributed a fun fact: Santa Claus is “Julemanden” in Danish, which means “Yule Man.”

Volunteers like the annual custom, too. Linda Sullivan of Gilpin County noted, “Some people really need this, and I want to help them have a perfect day.”

Moms and dads, kids and dogs were definitely busy having the perfect day. When they found the pine or spruce that looked like it wanted to go home with them, they loaded it into the back of their truck or tied it securely to the top of their SUV. Each tree was fresh and green and perfect in its own way.

Getting the permit, visiting with Santa, hiking up the snowy hill, and even picking up the needles at the end of the season are all worth it for the pleasurable memories it will give people for years to come.

“O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, how lovely are thy branches!”


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