Making merry needn’t be a wholly man-made affair. This holiday season, many national wildlife refuges are hosting a variety of festive outdoor events. At a few refuges, you can even harvest your own Christmas tree.
Christmas tree cutting is available for the hardy at Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in Maine, Rydell National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota and Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
Moosehorn Refuge allows two balsam fir pine trees to be cut per person, starting at the end of November. Manager Bill Kolodnicki calls them “Charlie Brown trees” — imperfect trees that, if the public didn’t harvest, would have to be cut to maintain road visibility. Pick up a free permit from the refuge office before you cut. Tree-cutting is a 10-year-old refuge tradition.
Rydell Refuge permits spruce tree cutting on Dec. 3 and 4 only. Tree harvesting is part of a management plan to restore the prairie wetlands and tallgrass prairie habitat to pre-settlement conditions. This may be the last year for the public tree-cutting program, says manager Dave Bennett. Spruce trees range in height from 10 to 30 feet. Pick up a permit at the visitor center. Use hand saws only. There is no fee but donations are welcome to the refuge Friends group.
Kenai Refuge allows visitors to cut one tree per family between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Detailed information on tree harvesting is available on the refuge web site. No fees or permits are required.
Other scheduled holiday events on refuges around the country include these, listed in the order they will occur:
Wildlife Holiday Bazaar
Saturday, Dec. 3, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. — Patuxent Research Refuge, Maryland
Shop for wild new and gently used treasures. Purchases support the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and the Patuxent Research Refuge.
Nature Crafts for the Holidays
Saturday, Dec. 3, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. — Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana
Get in the holiday spirit by making evergreen swags, ornaments and birdfeeders with natural materials that the refuge provides or that you have collected to share with others.
A Pioneer Christmas
Wednesday, Dec. 7, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. — Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, Michigan
Celebrate Christmas customs of the past and present with craft-making, hot chocolate, popcorn and cookies. Admission: $2 per person. Green Point Environmental Learning Center.
Christmas on Chesser Island
Saturday, Dec. 10, 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. — Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia
Celebrate the holiday season with a hayride, luminaries, refreshments, caroling and live music. Tour a swamp homestead decorated with traditional homemade decorations.
Take a Howling Safari — Holiday Howl
Saturday, Dec. 10, 4 p.m. — Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, North Carolina
Hear endangered red wolves and learn about them at the only place in the world where they still exist in the wild.
Take a Horse-Drawn Sleigh Ride in Elk Country
Monday, Dec. 12 to end of March, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily except Christmas — National Elk Refuge, Wyoming
Hour-long horse-drawn sleigh rides, led by Double H Bar, Inc., have a bonus: a close-up view of the refuge’s great elk herds. Tickets ($18 adults; $14 ages 5 to 12; under age 5 free) are sold at the Jackson Hole and Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center. Learn more about the rides here.
Christmas Bird Count
December 14 through Jan. 5 — Participating refuges
Many refuges nationwide will take part in this 112th annual bird count, sponsored by National Audubon Society. Check the Refuge System event calendar for updates. Among participating refuges:
Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, MN (Saturday, Dec. 17, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.)
Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge, Illinois (Monday, Dec. 19, 6 a.m. to sunset)
Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge, Texas (Tuesday, Dec. 27, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma (Friday, Dec. 30, 7 a.m. to noon)
Holiday Open House
Thursday, Dec. 8, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. — Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge, Illinois
Celebrate the holiday season with staff from the Cache River Wetlands Joint Venture — a public-private partnership to protect what is left of the Cache River watershed.
Kids’ Bird Count
Wednesday, December 28, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. — Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, Utah
The refuge’s second annual CBC4Kids! (Christmas Bird Count for Kids) is meant for ages 6 to 15 and modeled after Audubon's nationwide bird count. The day starts with a Binocular Boot Camp and bird ID workshop. Then, kids head off with biologists to count as many birds as they can. Information: (435) 734-6444.