Holiday harvest

Kiwanians in Washington state cut and sell christmas trees to fund local scholarships.

Story and photos by Curtis Billue

North of Cle Elum, Washington, along old Mining Road #5, you’ll find fir trees of all kinds. Noble, silver and sub alpine firs prefer the high elevation. In the lower areas, grand and Douglas firs tower around a band of merry Kiwanians. Even the cloud above, which rains down on their shoulders, cannot dampen their spirits.

Hartwig Vatheuer, Jean Cicognani and Dave Bridgeman scamper over the tricky terrain. Sounds of their songs, jokes and laughter—expressed in several languages—mix with the sound of water dripping from larch tree branches and the buzz of a chainsaw.


Vatheuer, a retired forester with 30 years of expertise,  knows the Cle Elum Ridge like the back of his hand. He navigates the thick, ocher-colored brambles and blackening, rotting logs until he finds a promising Douglas fir. He assesses the tree and throws out height measurements like a secret code: “We need five over 16 , 11 for the church, 9 at home.”

This fir is small, but a beauty. When the Kiwanis club sells the trees, he says they have a motto in mind: “A tree for every taste and every pocketbook.”

Click here to watch a video about the Washington Kiwanians and their tree sale

Dave Bridgeman loads one of 50 trees to be harvested on this trip for their club’s Christmas fundraiser.


Hartwig Vatheuer pauses on the foggy slope against the yellow hues of cottonwood and the ochre reds of rough, prickly brush.

Lot of Love

The Cle Elum, Washington, Kiwanis tree lot makes choosing a christmas tree easy. it’s tradition.

Story and photos by Nicole Klauss

Every December, members of the Cle Elum, Washington, Kiwanis Club spend their weekends helping people with one of the holiday’s toughest decisions: picking the perfect Christmas tree. Not too tall. Not too short. Not too skinny. Not too wide. Perfect.

The Cle Elum Kiwanis Club holds a Christmas tree sale every winter. A small group of Kiwanians go out to the mountains and cut down all of the trees that are sold.

The tree lot on First Street is a fundraising tradition in the community of about 1,900 people. Customers purchase natural trees for their businesses, churches, yards and homes. Whether three-foot “Charlie Brown” spruces or 20-foot noble firs, the trees are harvested by the Kiwanians along Cle Elum Ridge from private lands owned by the Nature Conservancy. (Join the Kiwanians on their annual tree hunt at

Some years, there’s snow on the ground when the lot opens, says Kiwanian Hartwig Vatheuer. People arrive with a cup of cocoa or coffee warming their hands while they wander through the trees.  On weekdays, the honor system applies. Pick your tree and leave your payment next door at the Farm and Home Supply.

Liz Welsh poses with her daughters Emmaline and Violet at the Cle Elum Kiwanis Club Christmas tree sale.

“The only record (of nonpayment) was many, many years ago when the cops caught a woman after the bars closed,” Vatheuer says. “She was dragging the tree down the road. She got a citation, and we got the tree back the next day from the police department.”

On weekends, Kiwanians count how many trees were purchased and replenish the lot as needed. Then, they set up shop, standing around a portable heater inside a small trailer, swapping stories and waiting for customers.

Libby MacFarland and her husband, Jaime, stopped by this past December, looking for a small tree to decorate for the holidays. The couple had moved from Iowa a few months before the holidays.

“We haven’t had a real one for a long time,” Libby says, adding that her artificial tree was in storage. “I have a lot of homemade ornaments. I have things I made 40 years ago.”

Susan Black typically buys her trees from the club, though the previous two years she cut her own. Now, she’s back at the Kiwanis lot.

“We decorate with lights and ornaments,” Black says. “Some are ornaments we’ve purchased and kept each year, and we try to add to it every year. Some are homemade from the kids when they were little, but mostly we bought them.”

People who shop at the Kiwanis Christmas tree lot are not just getting a tree; they’re giving back to the community. The trees range from US$3 to $80, and sales support youth and community services.

“We give several thousand dollars a year in scholarships to graduating seniors,” says member Larry Scholl. “Some are ongoing, up to four years of continued school support.”

Cle Elum Kiwanians Hartwig Vatheuer, left, and Larry Scholl look at the trees left in their annual Christmas tree sale.

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