A recent transplant from New Mexico marvels at the beauty and bounty of East County's tree farms
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
27763 S.E. Currin Road
Bob'z Tree Farm
21579 S. Springwater Road
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
28000 S.E. Eaglecreek Road
Deep Creek Tree Farms
20601 S.E. Tara Lara Lane
Dutcher's Tree Farm
33755 S.E. Compton Road
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
J and K Farms
Miller Family Trees
19901 S.E. Jacoby Road
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
Oregon Tree Farms
Oxbow Rim Tree Farm
34623 S.E. Homan Road
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.
24750 S. Century Road
Rickel's Tree Farm
29501 S.E. Dowty Road
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
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
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.