Golden Gate Canyon State Park tree cutting and open house
by Patty Unruh
What do people look for in the ideal live Christmas tree?
To answer this important question, I joined a throng of Christmas-spirited folks who went tree cutting at Golden Gate Canyon State Park. This event was held Saturday, December 5, and again on Sunday the 6th. Families and friends gathered at the Visitor Center on Highway 46 to await the opening of the doors. The morning temperature was what the weather man likes to call “refreshing.” Groups clustered together for photos, smiling by clenching their chattering teeth.
“Say Christmas t-t-tree!”
The Visitor Center opened promptly at 9 a.m., and a good-sized crowd surged in out of the cold. The center was warm and cheery, with a huge lighted Christmas tree, a fire crackling in the fireplace, a friendly Santa Claus to pose with the kids, and the aroma of hot chocolate and cookies.
I found that this is a huge weekend for the park. Permit sales opened on November 9, and they sold out the same day. 350 permits were sold at $25 each, and park staff said they could have sold 1,000. Volunteers manned tables to hand out the permits that folks had pre-purchased, and other staff were busy handing out maps and answering questions. A total of 569 people visited the park on Saturday, and 547 on Sunday.
The annual Christmas tree cutting is a long-standing tradition of over ten years. (The only year it was not offered was 2013, which was the year severe flooding hit the area.) It’s so popular that 15 volunteers were needed to handle the process, and eight full-time staff from Golden Gate and other areas helped out.
The park collected 135 food items plus $28 for the Gilpin County Food Bank, according to Visitor Center supervisor Megan Barton.
Everyone was looking forward to the Great Tree Quest. I asked several of the folks what type of tree they were looking for and got several different answers. One wanted a fir, about six or seven feet tall. Another was looking for a “Charlie Brown” tree – the sparsely-needled kind that evokes sympathy. Four-year-old “Ella” confided, “I want the perfect tree.”
I only recognized a few Gilpin residents. Most of the folks came from metro area suburbs or Boulder. For that early in the morning, everyone was cheerful and talkative.
Barbara Kenshalo of Lakewood told me, “We do this every year. It’s our tradition.”
The Woods from Aurora were doing the tree-cutting gig for the first time. Their kids were keeping Santa pretty busy while the parents waited in line for their permit.
Everyone drove in a convoy down the park road, which was still somewhat snow-packed and icy from recent storms. Personnel at the Red Barn area were already gearing up for check-out, fixing cocoa and cider and building a bonfire.
The tree hunters zoomed off to the two cutting sites, Nott Creek and the Ranch Ponds. I elected to follow the Nott Creek group. We drove to a parking lot, where rangers had a checkpoint and gave directions to the cutting area. It was up a one-way four-wheel-drive trail, they cautioned. Not to worry. My Jeep Commander handled it like an old pro, as the trail was in decent shape and bore a striking resemblance to the road I live on.
The upper parking area was typical mountain style parking, which meant pulling off the trail onto a bumpy, grassy space between a couple of pines. Eager tree hunters clambered out of their vehicles and were met by windy gusts that hadn’t been at the Visitor Center. Nothing daunted, they gathered their accoutrements and headed off into the woods.
Keep in mind that there are several essential items to bring when you go tree cutting. Besides your pick-up or SUV, you need a hand saw, a toboggan to haul the tree to your car, a passel of kids, and a dog or two. Coat, boots, scarf, and gloves are necessary fashion items. For those who are not self-conscious, a Santa hat or perhaps some reindeer antlers complete the ensemble. (In case you’re wondering, I had on a plain white knitted cap.)
I hopped out of the Jeep to join the others. My keen reporter eyes observed a weathered sign, and I trudged over to it through the snow. It proclaimed, “Ponderosa pines along this trail are being thinned to develop a fuel break. We do this to slow the advance of a wildfire. The staff at Golden Gate Canyon State Park and Colorado State Forest Service began this thinning project in 1994. The trees that were cut are removed by allowing the public to gather them for firewood.” And also, happily, the public can cut their own for Christmas trees.
It wasn’t long and people began to return with their finds, all of them fresh, green, and beautiful. They were justly pleased with their firs and Charlie Browns, and yes, each one was perfect in its own way. The trees will lend a beauty and fragrance to each home in the weeks to come, as well as a special memory to enjoy through the years.