Christmas is rapidly approaching, and for many folks, the holidays just don't feel right without a nice, green tree dressing up the household.
And for many of those folks, not just any old tree will do. There's something special about traipsing through the woods to find just the right tree -- not too big, not too small, not too fat or too thin, and ready for adornment with favorite decorations.
For many families on the peninsula, a trip into the wilderness of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is as much a part of the holiday tradition as chestnuts roasting on an open fire and stockings hung by the chimney with care.
"We try to go out together as a family every year," deputy refuge manager Jim Hall said. "Last year we all went snowshoeing. We snowshoed for a couple of hours, found a nice tree and dragged it back to the road. We may not need snowshoes this year."
Hall said that cutting Christmas trees on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is a popular tradition in many households across the peninsula.
"We estimate probably 1,000 or more peninsula-wide take trees off the refuge," Hall said. "There's 50,000 year-round residents on the peninsula, and a good number cut their trees on the refuge."
The refuge again is open for Christmas tree cutting, with a few restrictions. Trees may be taken anywhere on refuge land, except within 150 feet of a road, lake, stream, trail, campground or picnic area. No tree cutting is allowed in the refuge headquarters and visitor center area along Ski Hill Road in Soldotna. Trees are for personal use only and a limit of one per household applies.
Popular spots for tree cutting on the refuge include the firewood cutting area on Funny River Road, and the area along Skilak Lake Loop Road.
For aesthetic purposes, the public is asked to trim stumps as close to the ground as possible.
All areas of the Chugach National Forest on the Kenai Peninsula also are open to Christmas tree cutting except Turnagain Pass from the point where Big Bertha Creek crosses the Seward Highway north to the forest boundary, for a half mile on either side of the highway.
Portage Valley also is closed to tree cutting from the Seward Highway to Portage Lake.
In Chugach National Forest, trees must be cut 150 yards from main roads, picnic and campground areas, administrative facilities, trails and bodies of water.
Hall said his family's annual tree cutting trip will take place this weekend.
"My oldest daughter is now in Jacksonville, Fla., for college, so she'll miss tree cutting this year," Hall said, adding that she'd be home just before Christmas, but he didn't think his other kids would wait that long.
Hall said his family tries to harvest a tree from a spot where it will do the most biological good. Instead of picking a tree standing all alone, Hall recommends cutting one that would thin out a dense stand.
"We try to harvest a tree that's competing with another tree," Hall said.
In addition to a tree saw and appropriate gear for transporting the tree, Hall said he also brings a tape measure so as not to pick a tree that's too big to get into the house.
"(The size of the tree does) fool you," Hall said. "What we do is measure the space where we want the tree in the house, then we carry a 10-foot pocket tape measure out in the field."
Hall said the tradition is a great way to spend some time outside with loved ones.
"It's a good opportunity to get out as a family and enjoy the peninsula," Hall said. "It's a good activity, and it brings about a little holiday cheer when you go out and do it together."
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