By RACHEL COLEMAN
• Leader & Times
Christmas might be long gone, but the real trees some local families used to decorate their homes aren’t. A few still adorn living rooms, dropping needles on the floor. Some are propped against dumpsters in the alley. Others are slowly withering in the back yard.
One place they are not piling up is the city of Liberal’s parks department, where the Christmas tree recycling/chipping program has been discontinued.
“We quit doing it a year or so ago,” director of parks Bill Houk said of the program, which transformed used trees into mulch for landscaped areas in Liberal. “People were abusing it. We were getting everything from cottonwood trees to dead branches to old shrubs. It was 10 percent Christmas trees and 90 percent everything else.”
Houk is regretful that “this is another case where several people kind of ruined it for everybody.” However, he noted, the number of Liberal residents affected will be small since only one retail outlet, Westlake Ace Hardware, sold fresh-cut trees for Christmas.
“Years back, you could buy them at four or five different places,” he said. “Now, most people are going artificial.”
Not Andrew and Miriam Wehling. Their family has put up the real thing for Christmas as long as they’ve lived in Liberal, leaving the decorated tree in place until Jan. 7. The date is known as Epiphany, and marks the visit of wise men from the east to Christ and his family, as recounted in the Bible.
“Since it’s kind of boring and depressing to take the tree down, we have a little celebration,” Miriam Wehling said. “We eat ethnic foods, and sometimes I give each person a small gift. For us, it’s a way to remember that Christ came for all people in the world.”
In years past, Andrew Wehling often cut the undecorated tree into pieces, and saved two to form a small cross, which the family displayed through the season of Lent and Easter. As for the rest of the tree,
“We usually take it over to the city of Liberal’s park building and leave it there,” said Miriam Wehling.
Although the official program has been discontinued, Houk said he won’t turn anyone — or any legitimate Christmas tree — away.
“If people can’t haul them out to the landfill themselves, they should call us. I’m not going to turn anyone down. They can bring the tree to the park shop, and we will dispose of it,” Houk said.
Houk said the department’s chipping machine is presently in use in a tree-trimming project on Industrial Park road, so it’s likely discarded Christmas trees will end up in the Seward County Landfill.
Those who don’t want to haul shedding trees across town can opt to work with the city’s sanitation department. Director Frank Holman said two options are available. Residents who’d like old Christmas trees removed from their property can schedule pick-up by the sanitation department for a $5 fee, paid in advance at city hall.
“Or, we can give you a coupon so you can take it to the landfill yourself for free,” Holman said.
The City of Liberal Park Department is located at 724 Armory Ave., and the phone number is 626-0132. To schedule tree pick-up by the sanitation department, Liberal residents should stop by city hall to pay the $5 fee.