Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

December 3, 2012

Rooted in tradition: Tree farms help family memories grow

PRINCETON — Whether selecting a fir, spruce or pine, harvesting a Christmas tree is an annual holiday tradition for many families throughout the region.

Tree farmers across Mercer County are ready to guide residents wanting to harvest their own Christmas tree. Jerry Belcher, owner of the Plateau Tree Farm on Mercer Springs Road in Princeton, is one such tree farmer who delights in helping families find the perfect tree. This year a tree grown by Belcher’s family farm took home the top prize from the West Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association.

“In October, at the Mountain State Forest Festival a white pine we grew won the grand champion prize,” Belcher said. “The West Virginia Christmas Tree Growers allow people to vote on the tree they like best at the Forest Festival in Elkins, and we took the top award. We are very proud. We enjoy this tree farm.”

Though the white pine won the state title, Belcher said most of the customers at his Christmas tree farm prefer fir trees for their homes.

“Actually, white pines aren’t the most popular trees,” he said. “Firs are the most popular tree. There are two types of firs grown in this area: the Fraser and the Canaan fir. The Canaan fir comes from the Canaan Valley of West Virginia, and many tree growers in this area grow Canaan firs because they are more receptive to this area.”

Belcher said his farm is one of several selective-harvest farms in Mercer County.

“Our primary service is selective harvest, which is also known as choose-and-cut,” People come on site usually beginning in November, and people can tag the tree they want by putting their name on their tree. When it is closer to Christmas, they come back and know their tree has already been picked so they can go directly to their tree. Otherwise, people just come on site, we provide them with a small saw with a guard on it, and they go across the property. They find their tree, select it, cut it and bring it to our station. We shake the tree, get the debris out of it, and we then put it through a cyclone and bale it so they can transport it home.”

Belcher said he is seeing more people opting for live trees over plastic ones.

“Kids go through the field saying ‘this is the one I want’ and the family debates that decision until they make a unified decision on which tree to take home with them,” he said. “We take a lot of time and pleasure in shaping our trees, working with people and growing these trees. We are seeing a resurgence in live trees. For a period of time people bought a lot of artificial trees, but they are finding plastic trees leave bigger carbon footprints than the live trees. We plant trees back for every tree taken down. We are seeing a lot more people coming back to live trees. There is the aroma of the tree in the house.”

Gene Bailey, owner of the Bluestone Christmas Tree Farm on Stovall Ridge Road in Camp Creek, said his family has been operating their farm for 47 years.

“We started this place in 1965, and I’ve been planting Christmas trees since 1946,” he said. “We started up in a very small way and expanded. We still sell plenty of trees to people who choose to come in and cut their own trees rather than precut trees. We also sell wreaths and ornamental plants.”

Bailey said many families enjoy being able to pick out their Christmas tree together each year.

“It is a tradition for everyone that had a Christmas tree back years ago,” Bailey said. “There was no such thing as an artificial tree. When I was young, there weren’t aluminum or plastic trees like there are now. Live trees are environmentally friendly. It is a tradition for a lot of families. They like the idea of coming to the farm and picking out the tree. They can bring their children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. We have people who spend several hours looking for a tree not because it takes so long to find one, but because they enjoy walking the fields. The fragrance of a live tree is also something people enjoy.”

According to Bailey, firs and white pines are some of the most in demand Christmas tree varieties in West Virginia.

“You try to base it on customer demand and what you can grow on the particular site and soil you have,” he said. “Right now customers are demanding fir trees. Many years ago, people wanted white pines. I would say 80 percent of our sales of cut tree are Canaan fir, which is a tree that is native to West Virginia. We still a lot of spruces and a few blue spruces. There are still a good number of white pines, in addition to several other varieties.”

Bailey said planting the trees each year is his favorite part of operating the farm.

“I enjoy all aspects of it,” he said. “I really like to plant the trees. I plant back about three trees for everyone we take out each year. A lot of them on the steeper hillsides we just let them grow. I am almost 80-years-old, and I want to wind up my life planting trees. I just love planting trees.”

Dawn Lusk with the Mountain Vista Christmas Tree Farm on Black Oak Road in Princeton, said her family began their farm as a way to put their children through college.

“We are a family-owned operation, and this is our fifth year,” Lusk said. “My husband is a second-generation Christmas-tree farmer, and it is a tradition of ours. His parents started growing Christmas trees to put their four children through college, and we picked it up from there. My husband works in this area now, and we live in the Princeton area. We are just continuing the family tradition. This is our children’s lemonade stand to help put them through college.

Lusk said different types of trees lend themselves to different types of decorating.

“We plant about 500 trees every spring,” Lusk said. “We have white pine, Norway spruce, Scotch pine and Douglas fir. The white pine are probably the most popular we sell. The length of the needle is the big difference. The white pine grows faster, has longer needles, has great longevity and is more full. Short needles and stout trees are often better for heavy ornaments. Different trees have scents. In my opinion, the Douglas fir smells the best, but all of the trees have a fresh smell to them.”

Lusk said picking out the perfect tree is still an important tradition for many families.

“In our opinion, people come to do their choose-and-cut more than anything for the experience,” Lusk said. “It is a good family outing, doesn’t take a lot of time and makes great family memories. A lot of people bring their children and make an outing of it. They know they cut it that day and how fast it is. It hasn’t been sitting on a lot for a week or more. We have a live tree at our home every year. We always let our children pick out a tree, so it is part of our family tradition as well.”

 — Contact Kate Coil at kcoil@bdtonline.com

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