The freshest — and some of the least expensive — Christmas trees are standing in forests an hour or two from the Tri-Cities.
You can buy permits weekdays at any Umatilla National Forest Office, including those in Walla Walla and Pendleton, and get a map and some advice on where to cut a tree and what roads to take.
Permits also are on sale at the Sportsman’s Warehouse and Farmers Exchange in Kennewick; Columbia Grain & Feed in Pasco; the Conoco General Store in Dayton; Ace Hardware in Hermiston; Bi-Mart and Southgate Mini-Market in Pendleton; and the Alpine Outpost in Tollgate, Ore.
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Your best bet may be to go to Dayton and then take North Touchet Road south to the forest. The road should be open at least until the Ski Bluewood turnoff. Four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended by the Forest Service.
If you plan to look for a tree near Tollgate, expect to snowshoe or snowmobile into areas off Highway 204, say officials at the Walla Walla Ranger District.
Forest officials ask that each household buy only one tree permit.
Cutting trees is allowed in most of the forest, but there are some convenient areas that are off limits.
Make sure you are on national forest land. Don’t cut in a campground or within 200 feet of Bluewood Ski Area, summer homes or Forest Service guard stations.
You also can’t cut trees from Forest Service plantations.
You can take trees that stand up to 14 feet tall, but topping trees is not allowed. Stumps can be left no higher than 10 inches.
Forest Service officials ask you cut off any green limbs left on the stump; they’re good for decorating greens.
You also can remove up to 25 pounds of tree branches for home decorating.
You’ll need to carry your tree out or slide it out on plastic. Dragging will rub off needles and bark.
The U.S. Forest Service also recommends wrapping the tree in a tarp to prevent wind damage, if you tie it on top of your car.
Once home, cut at least a half inch off the bottom of the tree to get rid of pores too clogged with sap to absorb water, then put the trunk in water.
You will need to be ready for winter weather if you plan a family outing this weekend. Snow is possible in the Blue Mountains Saturday and Sunday, and mountain roads may be muddy or snowy.
Dress for the snow and bring plenty of snacks and water, plus supplies to build a fire in an emergency. Let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be home.
If you have a fourth-grader in the family, you can get a permit for free.
They must obtain and present a paper voucher printed from the every Kid in a Park website. Visit www.everykidinapark.gov and follow instructions.