It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas |

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

by Sally J. Taylor, Tribune staff writer

While most early morning risers on Friday went out shopping or nursed post-Thanksgiving indigestion, a crew of South Tahoe Optimist Club volunteers had more noble plans.

That’s “noble” as in noble fir as well as Douglas fir, silver tip and grand fir.

Such Christmas traditions were unloaded early Friday by a contingent of volunteers that included youths from Tahoe Turning Point as well as Optimists. Sales from the club’s annual Christmas tree lot at Lakeview Drive and U.S. Highway 50 go toward community youth programs.

The Optimist lot is only one of many Christmas tree lots that sprang up on South Shore almost as soon as the status of Thanksgiving turkeys decreased to mere leftovers.

The Optimist volunteers unloaded about 380 trees that arrived by truck from the Mountain View Tree Farm in Oregon.

“This is the 11th year I’ve been delivering to these guys,” said Gary Buckingham, truck driver for the tree farm. “It takes about a day to cut these and another day to bail and load.”

After his South Lake Tahoe stop, Buckingham continued on to the Truckee Optimist Club lot and the Booster Club lot in Mammoth, Calif.

The delivery was just one of several loads expected by the Optimists from Oregon and a West Slope tree farm that raises silver tips. By the end of the season, about 1,200 trees will pass through the lot on their way to becoming part of someone’s Christmas tradition, said Optimist President Art Slabeck as he sliced neatly through strings that protected the branches of a tree during its long journey from Oregon.

“We’ll sell them all, usually,” he added. “The best sellers are the nobles and grand firs because they last the longest.”

The going rate for Christmas trees this year is $8.50 per foot.

The busy season for Christmas tree purchases begins next weekend, he said, but that doesn’t stop many people from buying trees early and keeping them outside until they have time to set them up and decorate the trees for Christmas.

“Why not, it’s the same tree,” Slabeck said.

The Optimists and owners of other lots can expect a good year for natural tree sales, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. Studies by the organization indicate more American families will trade the convenience and long-term savings of artificial trees for the natural fragrance and traditions of the real thing.

Based on marketing surveys, the association says about 36 million natural trees will be sold nationwide this season. That’s about 700,000 more than last year and almost 2 million more than in 1998. The projection still falls short of the all-time record of 37.2 million natural trees sold in 1995.

Oregon’s farmers cultivate 67,000 acres of trees and harvested 9 million last year, according to Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association. That places the state first in tree production, followed by North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

Nevertheless, fake trees remain in use in about 9 million more U.S. households than natural trees.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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