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Tracking down the perfect tree

A recent transplant from New Mexico marvels at the beauty and bounty of East County's tree farms
by: Carole Archer, Jim Wambaugh, owner of Oxbow Rim Tree Farm carries a 71/2 foot Grand Fir tree to the shaker and baling machines for processing. the shaker removes bugs and old needles.  The Baling machine ties up the tree for easy transport and at the pull of a string easy display inside the home.

My parents bought the family Christmas tree in 1976 in my hometown of Albuquerque, N.M. By 1986, the thing looked like a toilet brush cleaner.

It was a family joke that became a tradition. We have loved that ugly, plastic tree and have held onto it to this day.

I can't imagine why, driving on the winding roads past tree farms nestled throughout Estacada and Sandy. As a recent transplant to the Portland area, the lush, green landscape has been a breath of fresh air and a stark change from the dry brown earth tones of Albuquerque.

A family experience

At the Oxbow Rim Tree Farm, Jim Wambaugh prepares for holiday crowds that increasingly flock to his acreage as Christmas approaches.

'People come out here for the amenities. It's not just about getting a tree. It's about having some hot chocolate and elephant ears. It's about playing games and spending time together as a family,' he said.

Wambaugh opened his tree farm in 1978, approaching the enterprise as a cut-it-yourself retail business, rather than a wholesale tree farm that sells leftovers to the public.

Wambaugh still exports his trees to desert states, but said the trees he ships are generally not trees that sell well in Oregon.

'If you were to buy a tree off a lot in New Mexico, it would look totally different than the noble firs or doug firs that are popular here. Even though it came from here,' he said. 'People here have different expectations of what their trees should look like.'

Noble firs and doug firs are both top sellers for their durability. Noble firs have the longest needle retention. If properly cared for, many can last for more than a month.

Wambaugh said many people switch the type of tree they purchase each year while others stick to family traditions.

Choosing a tree

'I know a lot of people who buy plastic trees, and some people should. People who have serious allergies, for example,' he said. 'But I've talked to people who bought fake trees, and they get bored with them after a few years. The same tree. The same box. Those people are starting to come back to us.'

Flocking a tree is a good alternative to a plastic tree, Wambaugh said. The simulated snow-covered trees that can come in any combination of colors is not as popular locally as natural, native trees. The process coats the tree and seal in natural saps that can cause allergy irritation.

For people who don't have the time or means to drive to a tree farm, local tree lots offer many opportunities to support regional farmers.

Julene Dekert has been harvesting trees on her farm in Estacada for 20 years. She has set up a seasonal shop on the corner of Powell Boulevard and 174th Avenue for five years and manages it with her family.

'There is a lot of work and care that goes into harvesting trees. Some people think you just plant it and then come back in a few years and pull it up,' she said. 'Equipment can get stuck in the rain. When it's muddy, we have to make sure to keep the trees lifted.'

Dekert says her family cuts trees as needed in order to keep them fresh for the customer.

If that isn't fresh enough, the Mt. Hood National Forest Service sells Christmas tree cutting permits for $5.

Right preparation is key

Rick Acosta, public affairs officer for the forestry department, said the most important thing to keep in mind when venturing out to the woods to choose a tree is preparing for the weather.

'If people stop into our offices or give us a call before trying to cut a tree down we can give them some help in pointing out where the good places are to go,' Acosta said.

Regardless of the kind of tree people choose in the forest, they should remember to bring a shovel, tire chains as well as extra food and hot fluids in a thermos.

'The experience of getting a tree out here is the big draw. We relish those times where it is peaceful and quiet. We are building up memories that we hold with us,' he said.

Speaking of making memories, I think it's time to start a new one.

This year I'm surprising my parents by shipping a Noble Fir to their arid desert home. Maybe it's time that old, scraggly fake tree is used for what it looks like it was built to do after all.

Where to get your Christmas tree in East County

A-1 Christmas Trees

24676 S. Century Road

Estacada

503-630-3749

Angel Acres

27763 S.E. Currin Road

Estacada

503-630-6455

Bob'z Tree Farm

21579 S. Springwater Road

Estacada

503-663-4505

Open from 10 a.m. to dusk Wednesday through Friday and 9 a.m. to dusk weekends through Dec. 19. From Highway 212, go 3 miles; turn right onto Highway 224 toward Estacada. Go 1 mile to Carver, turn right crossing the bridge over Clackamas River. Turn left onto Springwater Road; follow it 10 miles to the tree farm on the right. Offers Noble, Douglas and grand firs. Heights range from tabletop trees to 10 feet high. Services include saws, wreaths, beverages, trees baled, warm fire and free coffee and cocoa. Handmade wreaths and garlands offered. Custom flocking available.

Cascade Tree Farm

P.O. Box 189

Estacada

503-630-4202

Chris Eads

28000 S.E. Eaglecreek Road

Estacada

503-630-5186

Deep Creek Tree Farms

20601 S.E. Tara Lara Lane

Eagle Creek

503-784-5785

Dutcher's Tree Farm

33755 S.E. Compton Road

Boring

503-663-4127

From Gresham, 7 miles east on Highway 26 to Boring exit. Left at stop sign. Cross Orient Drive, 1/2 mile on the left. Tree varieties include Douglas fir and grand fir. Services include saw, flocking, wreaths, candle arrangements and decorations.

Forest Home Tree Farm

24750 South Wallens Road

Estacada

503-630-6123

J and K Farms

Estacada

503-630-3052

Knapp Farms

Sandy

503-819-4037

Miller Family Trees

19901 S.E. Jacoby Road

Sandy

593-632-7880

Open Thanksgiving through Christmas. Varieties include noble fir and Douglas fir. U-choose and cut your own. Saws are provided; employees can cut the tree for you. Also offers precut trees.

Oregon Trail Christmas Trees

35200 S.E. Homan Road

Gresham

503-663-2355

Oregon Tree Farms

Estacada

503-630-7333

Oxbow Rim Tree Farm

34623 S.E. Homan Road

Gresham

503-663-6815

From Gresham, 6 miles east on Division Avenue. Call for more directions. Open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Dec. 23. Tree varieties include Noble fir, Douglas fir, grand fir, Fraser fir and Scottish pine. U-choose and cut or have the employees cut for you. Saws are provided. Also offers refreshments, wreaths, gift shop, decorations and tree stands. Chances to win prizes, tree cleaning and wood stoves.

Raintree Farm

24750 S. Century Road

Estacada

503-620-5468

Rickel's Tree Farm

29501 S.E. Dowty Road

Eagle Creek

503-630-4349

Local Ranger Stations

Mt. Hood National Forest Headquarters

16400 Champion Way, Sandy

(S.E. 362nd and Highway 26) 503-668-1700

Monday through Friday, from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

(closed 11:30 to 12:30 for lunch)

Clackamas River Ranger District

595 N.W. Industrial Way, Estacada

(off Highway 224) 503-630-6861

Ranger Station will be open Monday through Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. through Dec. 16.

Hood River Ranger District

6780 Highway 35, Mt. Hood-Parkdale

541-352-6002

Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Will be open on Saturdays, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Dec 2, 9 and 16.

Zigzag Ranger District

70220 E. Highway 26, Zigzag

503-622-3191

Monday through Saturday in November, from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Ranger Station will be open Saturday and Sunday, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. through Dec. 17.