Durango Living
- Page 4
Christmas Tree Train: A Forest Gift
D&SNGRR and Forest Service combine a holiday adventure with fuels reduction

BY KARLA SLUIS
Magazine Editor

What could be more jolly than a historic train loaded with freshly chopped Christmas trees? Throw in a hand saw and a lesson in ecology, and it’s a postcard moment with an important message about healthy forests.

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is offering a special Christmas Tree Train this year, running on December weekends leading up to Christmas. Passengers who remove trees around Cascade Wye will create a buffer near the rail line, and provide a safety zone for firefighters if there is a wildfire.

Passengers on the Christmas Train will head north and stop at Cascade Canyon, where they will search for the perfect holiday tree. People can warm up by the fireplace and enjoy a hot beverage, or walk to the footbridge over the Animas River. Volunteers from San Juan Mountains Association and FireWise Southwest Colorado will sell tree permits and provide hand saws and cutting advice. One tree per family will be tagged, netted and loaded on a special boxcar for the trip back to Durango.

“Initially, we simply wanted to give the opportunity to folks who have never gone into the national forest to find their own Christmas tree,” said Christian Robbins, D&SNGRR marketing manager. “But after talking with the U.S. Forest Service, the event is now about helping educate folks about Christmas tree harvesting as it relates to fire suppression.”

The trees available for harvesting are young white fir growing in the understory of an older stand of trees. “The white firs are pretty and have a nice shape, and they are soft to the touch – not prickly,” said Ann Bond, San Juan Public Lands Public Affairs Specialist. She said passengers can cut anywhere from the “little bitty ones” to 20 feet tall. They are close to the tracks, so people won’t have to hike out far in winter conditions.

“A tree cut locally has a story behind it,” said Robbins. “It is less likely to be perfect, but it is from Colorado, and has its own personality.”

Bond said the Forest Service has partnered with the train for many years. D&SNGRR has their own firefighters who work to reduce hazards, because the train is a source of ignitions from cinders in dry conditions. The train also hosts USFS firefighters for fuel reduction work. The Christmas Tree Train was an innovative way to clear young trees in a specific area in need of work. “This will make the forest healthier,” said Bond. “Fires use the understory trees to climb up into the bigger trees.”

“It’s a meaningful way for people to harvest their own, locally grown Christmas tree. It helps the forest and the train, and provides an education about fuels reduction.”

Robbins said the special train is a trial this year, but workers did scout out other areas in need of fuels reduction for future seasons.

“I am hopeful people will want to make it a family tradition,” he said.

Watch for a photo opportunity when the first Christmas Tree Train returns to the station at 2:45 p.m. on Dec. 4, which is also Noel Night in downtown Durango. Santa Claus, Smokey Bear, and representatives in uniform from the USFS, SJMA and the train will greet passengers.