Trees travel a long way to Colorado homes
by Erin Frustaci
While other boys dreamed of becoming baseball players, astronauts or firefighters, Clark Gernon dreamed of Christmas trees. And while those other boys may or may not have grown up to play major league, lift off to outer space or fight fiery blazes, Gernon has not only grown Christmas trees, but has become an expert in the science behind them.
"I always wanted to grow Christmas trees," said Gernon, 62, of Louisiana. "I have no idea where it came from. I might have arrived on Earth pre-programed."
Gernon is the owner and founder of Shady Pond Tree Farm in Louisiana, and he started by planting his first group of trees in 1979. This year, as he looks out his window, a thick scene of 14,000 trees happily unfolds. Over the years, Gernon has learned a thing or two about tannenbaums, having served on the National Christmas Tree Association for 10 years and then becoming the founding chair of the scientific research committee.
He can tell you all about the process, the variety of species and even cloning. Christmas trees have undoubtedly become more than a holiday tradition for Gernon, but for the average person they simply encompass the holiday spirit.
Before the shiny tinsel and ornaments are hung or the neatly wrapped presents are placed under its outstretched branches, a Christmas tree embarks on quite a journey. Whether it comes from a tree farm, garden center, chain store or retail lot, Christmas trees have become an ever-growing industry. According to a consumer survey from the National Christmas Tree Association, last year, 28.6 million trees where purchased for about $1.2 billion.
Karl Brown, GPS Coordinator and Vegetation Mapping Program Manager for the National Parks Service, said in Colorado, most trees get shipped from more lush locations and that they are planted and cultured like a crop.
"The challenge here is we are living in a desert," he said. "Even though the Front Range goes up to the Rockies, the trees that grow here don't have as high a demand as trees that come from wetter places."
He said people want particular species that have a certain look or feel. Conifer trees by far tend to be much more popular than hardwoods, which is why Colorado native trees are not in high demand. Every year, Brown helps his son's Boy Scouts troop organize and run a Christmas tree lot in Fort Collins as a fundraiser. He said in the early years, the group would cut the trees, but now they get them from a wholesaler.
"We've had maybe 10 percent of people asking for native trees," he said. "It's not the majority, so it is not critical."
Richard Ortega, part-owner of Nick's Landscaping in Commerce City, said there are a handful of "choose and cut" locations around the state, but that the climate is just too dry and arid for many of the popular Christmas tree species. Nick's Landscaping is a wholesale yard and factory that was started in 1952 and supplies more than 120 lot operators throughout Colorado and surrounding states.