Travel

Stop and smell the fresh pines, spruce and firs at Michigan's nearly 700 Christmas tree farms

Fresh Christmas trees are practically flying off the lot at Urquhart’s Tree Farm near Dexter this holiday season.

Detroit Mayor-elect Michael Duggan, who made his annual pilgrimage just after Thanksgiving, is among regulars at the “choose and cut” farm. So is the young couple who got so excited when he surprised her by popping the question that they grabbed a pre-cut tree rather than cutting a fresh one, as planned, and quickly sped away to show friends her engagement ring.

“I guess he was afraid she’d change her mind,” mused Sue Urquhart, who has owned the tree farm with her husband, Brian, since 1973.

Unlike the newly-engaged couple, most folks stay a while at the farm, seven miles west of Ann Arbor, and set about creating what they hope will be lifelong holiday traditions and memories. It’s all part of a growing “agri-tainment” trend in Michigan and around the nation.

A Whitmore Lake mother and daughter wait for the tree they cut to land on the pick-up table after going through the baler. (Susan R. Pollack)

A Whitmore Lake mother and daughter wait for the tree they cut to land on the pick-up table after going through the baler. (Susan R. Pollack)

Tree-seekers at Urquhart’s may grab a wheeled cart and a bow-saw and set off for the fields on their own, or take a wagon ride to pick the perfect tree from among thousands. Choices include Michigan white pines, blue spruce and several varieties of firs, including Fraser, Douglas and a relatively new variety called Korean. Depending on the species, prices are $7 or $8 per foot, which puts most of the fresh trees in the $50 to $90 range.

Urquhart’s is just one of nearly 700 Christmas tree farms in Michigan. With an annual harvest of approximately three million trees and a wholesale value in excess of $40-million, our state ranks third nationally in Christmas tree production. Michigan also grows more than a dozen species, more than any other state, according to Make It a Real Michigan Christmas, a three-year-old industry trade group whose website,(http://www.realmichiganchristmas.com), notes that 85 percent of artificial Christmas trees are imported from China.

After finding just the right tree and cutting it down, customers at Urquhart’s return to the barn and watch as staff members put it through the shaker and baler before loading it onto the family car. Inside, visitors may browse among the fresh wreaths and ornaments while warming up with cocoa and snacks.

By way of full disclosure, I know this because my 21-year-old daughter, Jenny, who is majoring in environmental science at the University of Michigan, has worked at Urquhart’s for two years. On hot summer days, she’s out in the fields, driving a small orange tractor, picking pine cones and otherwise trimming and maintaining the Christmas trees, which typically grow for eight years before they’re ready for harvest (the really tall ones can take up to 15 years!). Each December, she greets visitors such as giggling lovebirds and Detroit’s mayor-elect, who, according to Sue Urquhart, is looking forward to getting a really big tree next year for the Manoogian Mansion.

Located at 10050 Jerusalem Road, Chelsea, Urquhart’s Tree Farm will be open from 3-5 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 21.

Sue Urquhart greets guests at the tree farm she has owned with her husband, Brian, since 1973. (Susan R. Pollack)

Sue Urquhart greets guests at the tree farm she has owned with her husband, Brian, since 1973. (Susan R. Pollack)

Susan R. Pollack
Globetrotting journalist and former Detroit News staff writer Susan R. Pollack has covered travel since 1985, visiting scores of countries on five continents, 48 states, six Canadian provinces and hundreds of cities, islands and outposts along the way. From Alaska, the Galapagos and New Zealand to South Africa, Thailand and Wales, she has suffered the occasional lost luggage, jetlag and Montezuma’s revenge but still delights in sharing travel adventures with readers. In addition to The Detroit News, her award-winning stories and photos have appeared in major newspapers including the Dallas News, Toronto Star, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Chicago Sun Times; and magazines including Delta Sky, Midwest Living, Long Weekends, Experience Michigan, Jetsetter, Home & Away, Hour Detroit, Prevue Meetings and Group Tour. She has contributed to several books including "Rand McNally 2008 Ultimate NASCAR Road Trip Guide," and is the copy editor for secondchancetravels.com. She also has written for websites including gardendestinations.com and travelingmom.com.