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Discover Holiday Magic at Christmas Tree Farms

Lake Forest Tree Farm
Lake Forest Tree Farm

What could be better than the smell of chestnuts roasting on an open fire? How about fresh pine from a holiday tree you harvested yourself?

What could be better than the smell of chestnuts roasting on an open fire? How about fresh pine from a holiday tree you harvested yourself?

‘Tis the season for enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of the holidays. For some local families, that includes a live Christmas tree. But not just any tree will do. They crave the excitement and adventure of finding – and cutting down – their own.

Luckily, several tree farms in and around the Greater Pittsburgh area accommodate the urge to play Paul Bunyan.

Lake Forest Gardens, located 5 miles northwest of Zelienople in Fombell, Beaver County, is one of the most popular you-cut tree farms in the region. Operating on about 600 acres, locals can choose from Canaan Fir, Fraser Fir, Concolor Fir, and Colorado Spruce for the cut-your-own portion of the farm. Live trees balled and burlap wrapped are Norway Spruce, Serbian Spruce and Black Hills Spruce trees.

It takes roughly 8 years for trees to mature enough to serve as adequately-sized holiday trees, said Jason Dambach, Lake Forest Gardens general manager. Each year, the tree farm plants between 5,000 and 10,000 trees to keep up with the demand for fresh-cut trees. “We plant more and more each year to keep up with the demand,” he said. “Each year, we have roughly 5,000 trees available for customers to take home.”

Families that want to enjoy cutting their own Christmas trees this year should come prepared for the experience. At Lake Forest Gardens, Dambach said staff transport guests to the fields to do their tree shopping via wagon or tractor rides. Those looking for a little extra fun can opt for a hayride while enjoying hot chocolate and other warm drinks.

Handsaws are recommended for guests who plan to cut their chosen trees themselves. Dambach said customers can bring their own handsaws or borrow one from the tree farm. “Some people who have done this before bring chainsaws to make it easier,” he said.

If choosing a tree is more appealing than cutting it down, staff can assist with the hard part. “Typically, people want to cut their own, but if they need help, our staff will assist them,” Dambach said. “We keep the trees limbed up a bit to make access to the trunk easier.”

Once customers have selected and cut their trees, staff load them up and return them to the main guest area. There, the trees are shaken to remove bugs, wrapped for transport and loaded onto guest vehicles.

Dambach said his fourth-generation tree farm is about more than giving people the chance to cut their own trees. “It brings a lot of families together. We have families that have come here for over 60 years. They came as little kids, and now they bring their grandkids to share in the tradition with them.”

Pittsburgh resident Stephanie Haff said she and her family have a tradition of visiting Lake Forest Gardens every year for their Christmas tree. They chose the tree farm after driving by one year and thinking it looked like a lot of fun.

Her family of six loads up each year and makes the trek together. Everyone has their opinion on the perfect tree, she said, but they all agree on a basic shape and size. Their tradition is to all take turns sawing their chosen tree. “It’s really tough,” she said. “We all take turns trying to saw it down. I can’t even move the saw.” It’s usually her husband and oldest son who do the final sawing to remove the tree from its resting place.

Haff offered the following tips for the best experience:

  • Whoever is going to be the main person sawing the tree should wear gloves to help with the grip and to keep their hands safe when dragging it through the tree farm.

  • Softer trees are easier to carry, especially if you have little ones who want to take part in the cutting and removal process.

“Weekends are crowded, so embrace the hustle and bustle if you plan to go then,” she warned. “But the farm is so well organized that it flows nicely, even if there are a lot of people there.”

Dambach agreed with that recommendation, suggesting visitors allot roughly 2.5 hours from start to finish when visiting the tree farm.

When they’re all finished choosing and cutting their tree, Haff said her family enjoys visiting the tree farm’s gift shop, which sells amazing homemade goodies and other items from local vendors.

Another option for the adventurous is Mytrysak Family Tree Farm in nearby Indiana County. Roughly 46 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, the “you-cut” tree farm is situated in the heart of the Christmas tree capital of the world.

Co-owner Stacey Mytrysak said this year the tree farm has Frasier, Canaan, Blue Spruce and Douglas Fir trees for the holidays. A very limited supply of Concolor Firs are also available.

Guests can cut down their own trees or request help from the staff. “If you would like to cut it yourself, we recommend advising the staff prior,” she said.

Mytrysak recommended making sure no one is too close to the tree when it’s being cut down. “You can bring your own saw, but we do not allow chain saws as a safety precaution.” Staff members bale and shake all trees before transport. Customers are advised to bring ropes to tie their trees down to their vehicles.

For those who like fresh trees but not the experience of hacking them down themselves, Mytrysak said the tree farm has a selection of precut options available. “We recommend always putting a fresh cut on any tree once you get home,” she said. “The fresh cut helps the tree soak up the water.”

Visitors to the tree farm can enjoy hayrides and a concession stand on the weekends. A large fire for warming up and a play area for the kids are popular features at the farm.

For those who have never cut their own holiday tree, Mytrysak recommends giving it a try. “It’s a great family experience.”

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