Since 1995, Saddle Rock has been one of the designated sites in Aurora, Colo. for recycling live Christmas trees into mulch that is then used on the course and in city parks, and also made available to the public on “Free Loader Days” throughout the year.
The Christmas holidays may be in the rearview mirror by now, but it’s never too early to start gathering ideas for next year. And that includes post-holiday planning as well. Each year after Christmas, Saddle Rock Golf Course in Aurora, Colo., Is one of several sites in the city that accepts live Christmas trees for recycling.
After Aurora launched a tree-recycling initiative in 1990, the high-plains, links-style, 18-hole Saddle Rock property—the former home of the Colorado Open and numerous statewide amateur and professional events—has been part of the program since about 1995. It is one of five public courses in Aurora’s Golf Division, but the only one that is a collection site for the recycling program, serving as a central drop-off location for people who live south of the city.
Trees are accepted for recycling from the day after Christmas through the first weekend after New Year’s Day. All ornaments, tinsel, twine, nails, and stands must be removed. Flocked (powdered) and artificial trees are not accepted.
Each year, the city collects about 4,000 Christmas trees for recycling at its designated sites. The trees provide habitat for fish in a reservoir and construction material for stream-bank stabilization. The trees are also chipped into mulch, which is provided to residents free of charge at all drop-off locations while the supply lasts (residents are required to bring their own truck, bags, shovels, and containers to collect it).
Any mulch that is left over is used by the city to enhance shrub beds in its parks and mulch city trees when they are planted. It’s also provided to the public on free mulch days, called “Free Loader Days,” which are held at least once a month from April through August, says Alexa Lubel, a marketing specialist for the city.
“The Christmas tree recycling program benefits all of the city’s property that uses mulch,” says Michael Osley, CGCS, Aurora’s Golf Operations Superintendent. For instance, he notes, all of the city’s golf courses use the mulch on their informal pathways. During tournaments, the mulch is used to establish gallery areas and pathways to help with wayfinding and to alleviate compaction in some areas.
Aurora’s Forestry department has about 15 field staff members that work at the collection sites. In addition, the city invited Ready to Work—a nonprofit organization that helps people who are experiencing homelessness rebuild their lives by gaining work skills—to assist with the most recent recycling program.
To promote the Christmas tree-recycling program, the city of Aurora posts information about it on its website and through social media. Announcements are also included in citywide e-newsletters, and fliers and posters (see example, above right) are distributed to city facilities such as libraries, recreation and nature centers, reservoirs, and the municipal center.
“Our frequent users know about the program, but people who are moving to Colorado are not always aware of it,” says John Wesolowski, Parks and Forestry Manager for Aurora’s Parks Recreation & Open Space (PROS) Department.
During the remainder of the year, city trees, along with all pruning and removal debris that can be chipped as part of the city’s Urban Forest maintenance, are recycled. Any leftover mulch from “Free Loader Days” is also added to the city’s multipurpose mulch pile for use in the PROS department—which, in addition to the five golf courses, includes 8,000 acres of open space, 97 developed parks, 91 miles of trails, three nature centers, two reservoirs, six recreation centers, 180 athletic fields, 150 park shelters, and 25,000 trees.
“Once trees are cut down, they’re still usable,” says Wesolowski. “We want to make sure we’re using as much as we can of that resource. We’re not being good stewards of the resource if we’re not taking advantage of these opportunities.
“Trees are part of our infrastructure,” he adds. “They’re just as important as roads and other utilities.”
For other facilities that might consider starting a similar program, Wesolowski recommends that staff members stay on top of the wood chipping, instead of waiting until the end of the day to begin. “It’s a labor-intensive, monotonous job, so you don’t want to get behind,” he says.
The areas for designated Christmas tree drop-off locations should also be fenced in, Lubel advises, to prevent people from bringing other types of trash to the site.
“A paved surface at your location is key,” she adds. “It makes cleanup a breeze.”