F or some, picking out an evergreen to adorn with sparkling lights and shiny baubles is as simple as heading to your local Christmas tree lot.

But many Del Norters pack up their families, throw some chains on their tires and head into the forest for their holiday centerpiece.

“We go every year on Black Friday,” said resident Heather Downard, whose family has been cutting their own tree since she can remember. “We pack a big picnic lunch and lots of hot cocoa and head up for the day. We go with my husband, our 4 year old and 2 year old, my parents and our 7-year-old brother.”

The Six Rivers National Forest will be selling Christmas tree permits through Dec. 22. The cost is $10 and those who purchase a permit will receive a tag that must be signed and attached to the tree they have cut, according to the National Forest. There is a limit of two tags per household but one person may purchase a maximum of five tags.

Six Rivers National Forest is also participating in the Every Kid in a Park program by giving away a free Christmas tree permit to families with fourth-graders. Every Kid in a Park is a White House initiative to introduce fourth-graders to their public lands.

To receive a free Christmas tree permit, fourth graders or their teachers should visit www.everykidinapark.gov to complete download, print and complete an application.

Trees can be cut and removed any day of the week. Only trees that are six inches or less in diameter at the ground level can be removed, according to the Six Rivers National Forest. Tree topping is prohibited and the stump must be no higher than 12 inches off the ground.

Packing up his two kids and venturing up Low Divide, French Hill or Little Jones Creek roads to find the perfect tree is one of Paul Critz’s favorite memories of the season. Growing up with Christmas tree lots, Critz, who operates KFUG Community Radio, said the endeavor had a sense of adventure and do-it-yourself nature he finds appealing.

“You can’t just drive up and find something by the side of the road,” he said, referring to one of the National Forest’s rules about cutting trees that are at least 100 feet from the main road. “You have to hike into the woods a little bit.”

Over the years, Critz said one of his family’s favorite spots was a roughly four-acre spread atop French Hill that had been logged a few years back. But when asked what he looks for in a tree, Critz couldn’t say definitively.

“You know it when you see it,” he said, adding that he usually takes a small pruning saw to cut the tree with. “It’s got the right size, it’s got the right spread. When you find it you get down to it and hike through a little bit of snow and cut the thing out and pull it out. It’s the difference between buying meat and going out hunting.”

Downard said she looks for a tree that’s standing on its own. They require a bit of hiking from the main road, but they’re generally fuller with fewer bald patches.

“There isn’t really a method,” she said. “You know your tree when you see it.”

In addition to seeking out the perfect tree, Downard’s family hunts for mushrooms and other interesting plants, turning the day into a sort of outdoor classroom for the kids. She said she supports local businesses, craft fairs and schools by buying wreaths and other decorations, but the tree has to come from the forest.

When they get it home, Downard said she and her family eat cookies, blast Christmas music and decorate their tree.

“I feel it’s important to get the kids outside and cut our own tree so they understand why nature provides for us,” she said. “We try to find snow wherever we go so they can play, and each year we choose a different spot to get a tree that way none of the areas become bare.”

Before seeking out your tree, the Six Rivers National Forest recommends folks to let someone know where they’re going and the estimated return time. They recommend to bring clothing for cold weather even if the day is nice starting out and bring emergency food and water, a first aid kit, tire chains and a shovel. It’s also important to have a full tank of gas in your vehicle.

To purchase a Christmas tree by mail, include your name, address to mail permit, a daytime phone number, driver’s license number and a check or money order for $10 payable to the USDA Forest Service. Put Christmas Tree Permit on the outside of the envelope and allow for one week to process the request. Mail-in requests received after Dec. 14 will not be filed.

Forms may be downloaded at www.fs.usda.gov/main/srnf/passes-permits/forestproducts.

Christmas tree permits can be obtained from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday at the Crescent City-Del Norte Chamber of Commerce, 1001 Front St., Crescent City. For more information, call (707) 464-3174.

They can also be purchased from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday from the Smith River National Recreation Area headquarters on U.S. 199 in Gasquet. For more information, call (707) 457-3131.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com

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