If you are looking for an alternative to packed stores and overpriced gifts this holiday, maybe this is what you need. Trekking into the wild and cutting your own Christmas tree is a tradition that many Montana families look forward to every year.
"It's an extremely popular program," said Jennifer Becar, acting public affairs officer for the Helena-Lewis & Clark National Forest. "So we started selling permits about mid-November, and we've had people in every day looking for their permits.
That means the woods will be a popular place up until Dec. 24
So if you are chasing conifers this month, Becar suggests that taking the trail less traveled could be the way to go.
"Maybe even a secret hunting spot, that might be a good place to go and look," added Becar. "Somewhere that might be a little less popular, and you might have good luck finding a special tree out there."
Once you have your permit, the National Forest Service is asking you to please make sure you are on either National Forest land or BLM land. Also, when you find that perfect Christmas tree, try and cut one from an over-crowded stand of trees in a meadow. And make sure you're not in a timber sale area or campground.
Other things to keep in mind are staying at least 100 feet away from main roads, streams or recreation areas. Pick a tree that's less than 12 feet tall. Clean up after you cut, by picking up any limbs and leaving no more than six inch stump. Attach your permit to the tree prior to hauling it. And, as with any time you are working with sharp objects in the outdoors, follow all safety procedures, and let someone know where you are going.
By doing all that, you and your family could start a tradition with some real roots.
"This is just one way that we allow the public to get outside and enjoy nature," said Becar. "Have a fun opportunity to see their public lands and make some holiday memories."
Fourth graders can get a chance to earn a free permit by going to EveryKidOutdoors.org and following the instructions.