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Charlie Friesen, 6, romps through the forest in Nederland Saturday as his family searched for a Christmas tree.
Charlie Friesen, 6, romps through the forest in Nederland Saturday as his family searched for a Christmas tree.

The day Jessica and Michael Friesen became engaged, they had arranged to pick out a Christmas tree outside Redstone.

As the snow started to fall, Michael Friesen set his sights on the perfect tree up a rocky incline. Scaling the cliff ahead of his girlfriend, he slipped an engagement ring on one of the branches and shouted: “Look, it came decorated!”

Completely taken by surprise, she spotted the glittering ring tucked between the boughs and said “yes.”

For the couple, cutting down their own Christmas tree was a roughly 10-year tradition. For the past five to six years, though, they had to take a hiatus in tree hunting because life with two children and work got too busy. They resorted instead to pulling a pre-lit tree out of a box or buying a tree from a lot, a ceremony not quite as special as finding their own in the woods.

“Once you decorate them, they are gorgeous and they smell awesome,” Michael Friesen said.

This year, though, Michael and Jessica Friesen got to continue their tradition with their sons, with 7-year-old Oliver and 6-year-old Charlie in tow.

The Boulder family was one of 100 who won a Christmas tree permit lottery put on by the Boulder County Parks and Open Space for the first time this year. Close to 400 applied for the opportunity. If selected, people paid a $20 permit fee and were given the chance to visit roughly 30-acres of open spaceoutside Nederland to pick out the perfect tree.

“For us it was always a nice day outside together,” Jessica Friesen, who works as a construction project manager, said. “I just hope (Oliver and Charlie) like it.”

Scouting out a tree

The family started their Saturday in Nederland before noon. Their sons, fueled by cupcakes from an earlier birthday party, burned off some energy tossing stones on the frozen surface of the Barker Reservoir. After stopping at a cafe for the adults to grab some caffeine, they hopped in the car, ready to find their very own “Charlie Brown Christmas tree.”

Michael Friesen carried the saw and the family picked their way down a muddy path, searching for a good spot in the forest to look. Charlie and Oliver enjoyed some off-roading, testing the depth of the snow, which at times nearly reached the top of their snow boots.

Michael Friesen, a civil engineer, met his wife shortly after hiking the Continental Divide Trail, a more than 3,100-mile longthat stretches”] trek from Mexico to Canada. It takes about six months to complete, if conditions are optimum. The trail winds through scorching desert and towering California peaks.

Sporting a very long beard from his days of travel, Michael Friesen was waiting tables in a restaurant in Aspen, when his partner-to-be walked in to grab a bite to eat. He eventually got her number, kick-starting the couples’ two years of dating before a marriage in 2005.

Coming to a patch of trees that looked promising Saturday, the family diverted from the trail. Oliver and Charlie quickly determined that the snow was the perfect type for making snowballs, which they fired at their mom and dad.

Searching among the lodgepole pines, the family found several contenders. The first tree, a tall but bushy pine studded with pine cones, caught Oliver’s attention. After examining several other trees, the family decided that this first one was the best one. Micheal Friesen sawed deftly through the trunk.

“It smells great already,” he said as the slightly citrus smell of fresh cut pine permeated the air.

Boulder County Parks and Open Space also permitted people to cut down a single small tree, so long as it was growing in close proximity to another tree, with the idea being to open up the canopy, according to Stefan Reinold, the senior resource specialist for Boulder County Parks and Open Space.

Oliver and Charlie were on a mission to find a little tree that they could gift to their Elf on the Shelf, Sparky. With the forest filled with miniature versions of the tree they had just claimed, it didn’t take them long to find the one they would be taking home.

“Cut it down,” Oliver yelled excitedly.

Jessica Friesen did the honors. Their sons rushed to count the rings on the tree’s stump.

“It’s six. just like me!” Charlie yelled.

The forest Saturday was filled with dozens of other families in search of a fresh Christmas tree. Strategically thinning the trees can provide health and longevity benefits to the forest, according to Amanda Hatfield, a senior volunteer work projects coordinator for parks and open space. The idea, she said, is to keep a “health density” of trees and also a diversity of tree ages. Pine beetles attack trees of the same age, so by cutting various trees down, it slims the chance of the pests devouring an entire forest.

Hatfield said Parks and Open Space received great feedback from those selected for the lottery this year. She said the department hopes to continue the event next holiday season and offer more permits.

As the Friesen family hauled their trees back to the car Saturday, they paused to take in the mountain view. Their socks were soggy and some dark clouds looked like they were moving in, but the family was content.

This Christmas, both boys said they hope to find video games from Santa Claus underneath their new tree. They also couldn’t wait to show Sparky the baby pine they had plucked from the forest, which reminded them about the spirit of the holiday.

“It’s all about giving, not about getting,” Oliver said.

From left, Jessica and Michael Friesen and their children Oliver, 7 and Charlie, 6, cut down a tree in Reynolds Ranch near Nederland on Saturday.