David and Julie Eberhard of Wilmore wanted a "natural" Christmas tree this year.
They got one Saturday — two, in fact — so natural that moments before they packed them in a van, the trees were growing in the woods.
The Eberhards and scores of others picked up eastern red cedar trees that were cut from the Jim Beam Nature Preserve, a 115-acre tract straddling the Kentucky River at the Jessamine-Garrard county line.
The non-profit Nature Conservancy, which owns the preserve, culls eastern red cedars every winter to create space for wildlife-friendly hardwood trees such as locusts, oaks and walnuts, said Ken Brooks, a volunteer with the group. This was the third year the Nature Conservancy invited people to select Christmas trees they wanted to take home at no cost, Brooks said.
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Visitors picked their trees, volunteers wielded the saws and members of Boy Scout Troop 115 of Nicholasville hauled the cedars uphill to waiting vehicles.
"People like that it's free," Brooks said. "A lot of the people who come express that it's a difficult economic time. So being able to get a tree without spending a lot of money is a big advantage."
Rodger and Georgia Thacker of Nicholasville selected three trees, one large and two small.
"We like the idea of real trees," said Georgia. "I like that smell. We were raised old-fashioned."
"It's special, too, since I'm about to get deployed again," said Rodger Thacker, a member of the Kentucky Army National Guard.
The Eberhards, who are Christian missionaries in Brazil enjoying a short stay at home, brought Samba, their black Lab, to romp with them. Emerging from the woods, Samba spotted a newly cut tree lying on its side. Naturally enough, he lifted his leg.
"Samba, no!" Julie Eberhard said, cringing. Then she added: "I guess that's our tree now, too,"