MISSOULA — It’s that time of year when we start seeing a lot of red and green around our community.
The countdown to Christmas Day started on December 1, but decorating for the holidays starts much earlier than that.
This year, shoppers are seeing higher decoration prices.
The cost of an artificial Christmas tree is up on average about 10% this year due to inflation surrounding fuel and transportation, according to the American Christmas Tree Association.
But dipping into your gift budget to buy a tree isn't the only option, especially here in Montana — you can go right outside to get one.
A Christmas tree permit is only $5 when purchased in person from the Lolo National Forest. People can purchase up to three permits at any local ranger district station or online at https://www.recreation.gov/.
Missoula County resident Kevin McDowell said he prefers to chop down his tree because it’s a tradition.
“We used to make a big deal of it," McDowell said. "You know, a whole big group of people would go out and get Christmas trees together and then you bring cocoa and you make a day out of it.”
He’s chopped down his own Christmas trees for more than 30 years and the Lolo Creek area is his area of choice.
His advice to first-time tree cutters is to bring gloves and try not to be too picky.
"Usually your tree ends up against the wall or in a corner or something," he said. "So I usually try to find a tree that has one good side. It doesn't have to be the perfect Christmas tree.”
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McDowell is just one of the hundreds of people who have come to their local ranger stations to purchase a permit, according to Lolo National Forest Partnership Coordinator Rachel Santospirito.
"It's a tradition for a lot of local communities here," she said. "People do it with their families. It's a way to go out and connect back with the land.
Santospirito told MTN News this was her first year going out and cutting her own Christmas tree, adding that cutting your own tree is good for the environment.
“It’s actually really helpful because some of our stands in trees, our younger stands grow really close together,” Santospirito said. “So, being able to go in and get a few of them out of there, just even through this process is a way that we can help to mitigate the effects of too many trees together competing for resources and then also once they grow older, that eventually becomes a wildfire risk if there are too many trees in one area. So It does end up helping more than hurt.”
Prepare for your trip to cut down a Christmas tree in a forest near you by visiting the U.S. Forest Service website.
Other helpful links: