Hannah Pederson and her Girl Scout troop were busy tying together branches and making holiday decorations when the first tree came down the hill to the sound of applause.
In a new experiment, the Ring Mountain open space preserve was opened to the public to harvest invasive Monterey Pines. For the dozens of people who hiked up the hill, it was also a chance to grab a Christmas tree — for free.
There was no guarantee of a perfect tree. Many of the Monterey Pines might have been considered too thin or too fat, too tall or too small by commercial standards. Some tiny ones were simply described as "Charlie Brown trees."
The tree my wife and I brought home is perhaps unconventional, but it's our first tree as a married couple. It was 22 feet tall when Ranger Dave helped us cut it down, then we cut off 11 feet to carry away with us. The problem? Our ceiling is only about 8 feet high. A few simple cuts took care of that and now we have a 7-foot tree that is almost just as wide.
Park rangers started leading groups up the hill at 10 a.m. in search of trees. Almost all the invasive trees had been cleared out by 1 p.m. Rangers also brought in Douglas Firs that had been removed from Samuel P. Taylor Park. Some folks traded in the Monterey Pine they cut down for a pre-cut Douglas Fir.
The one-day event encouraged people to come out and explore the open space near Marin Country Day School and to help maintain the natural habitat.
Ring Mountain is home to very sensitive habitat and some of the rarest plants on earth, including the Tiburon Mariposa Lily, which grows nowhere else in the world. Habitat restoration and natural resource preservation is critical to the survival of these ecosystems.
Judging by the smiles and cheers from the hikers and volunteers, the experiment was an overwhelming success.