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Cochrane Ecological Institute to hold Christmas tree fundraiser Dec. 3 and 4

The Cochrane Ecological Institute is once again holding its biggest (and most fun) fundraiser of the year – the annual Christmas Tree Event – on Dec. 3 and 4 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Freshly cut spruce will be available at the Cochrane Ecological Institute for a donation on Dec. 3 and 4.

The Cochrane Ecological Institute in north Rocky View County is once again holding its biggest (and most fun) fundraiser of the year – the annual Christmas Tree Event – on Dec. 3 and 4 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Every year, (except for the last two) in order to keep some of the CEI land near Bottrel as open parkland for the grazing buffalo, mule deer, and other animals, they have to cut down a few "Charlie Brown" natural spruce trees.

Buffalo and deer don't graze the seedling spruce down, so if CEI staff don’t take some down every year, the evergreens will spread out and overwhelm each other and the native prairie pasture.

Over the year, CEI chooses the trees that need to be cut down very carefully and ensures the surrounding woodland will benefit from their removal.

They only take the trees that the CEI woodland can support so when they have all been collected by donors and taken home for Christmas, they will not cut any more until next winter.
The Christmas Tree Event, which has become very popular, combines an opportunity for the public to visit the CEI, donate to the charity, and choose a natural tree to take home for the holidays.

Debbie Norman of Redwood Meadows looks forward to this occasion every year – it’s a tradition for her.

She became a volunteer at the CEI around the same time (2017) an injured and orhpaned black bear cub was roaming in a field near Highway 1 and Highway 22. Dubbed “Russell” by local school children, a media uproar ensued over the province’s non-handling of the issue.

Wildlife advocates and nearby residents wanted the province to come and have a look at the orphaned cub, but were unsuccessful in that appeal.

Norman thinks she may have been one of the last people to see Russell. The fate of the bear is still unknown.
So the Christmas Tree Event is circled on her calendar.

“It’s just so much fun to be there and watch the families. There’s so much energy – it’s hard to explain verbally,” she said.

Norman said people will be able to tell her husband Mike what size tree they want if there isn’t one cut already, and he will go out and cut a fresh one right to their specifications.

“They are the freshest trees you’ll ever get,” she said.

Adding to the festive spirit, there will also be small fires, hot chocolate, and maybe even cookies.

And there will be short tours of the facility for interested visitors.

Ali Morrison of Cochrane is an avid attendee.

“Being out in nature, surrounded by wildlife, a beautiful forest and an assortment of some of the most interesting, knowledgeable people one could meet, with treats and sweets, all for a good cause – [it] makes for a perfect win-win,” Morrison said.

She encourages people to “come out and have some serious fun and help the wildlife residents” by taking part in the Christmas Tree Event.

Hendrik Bosch helps with the cutting and hauling of the trees. He calls it a win-win-win.

“We clear fire hazards, can use the trees to generate donations and people can get an affordable tree no matter what size,” he said.

“In times like these where everyone struggles and has to keep money tight (like the CEI itself), it's a great opportunity for everyone to get a tree.”

He said in addition to all the good they’re doing, it’s also a ton of fun.

“Seeing the happy faces of people getting trees, the fun moments trying to tie a 15-foot tree to a compact car or the big eyes kids make if they are lucky to see our bison always makes it a fun event,” he said.

The CEI noted that If the weather is -20 C or below, they'll have to cancel because fresh trees can be damaged under those temperatures.

The institute is 20 minutes northwest of Cochrane. From Cochrane, motorists are directed to drive north on Highway 22 for 18 kilometres (km), then eight km west on Township Road 280.

Howard May

About the Author: Howard May

Howard was a journalist with the Calgary Herald and with the Abbotsford Times in BC, where he won a BC/Yukon Community Newspaper Association award for best outdoor writing.
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