cut trees imported from Canada and then thought it might be interesting to raise his own. After selling trees through lots operated by civic clubs and Boy Scout troops for a few years, he switched to the booming you-cut business. He quickly figured out that he needed more than trees to attract repeat buyers.
“You have to have something for the kids if you want to keep your customers,” he says. “You have to give the kids something to do while mom and dad pick out a tree. We let kids have the run of the place while parents tree-shopped.”
That didn’t mean letting kids run wild, however. Lintzenich and his wife, Marilyn, developed activities to entertain kids, adding a new attraction every year. Before they knew it, their tree farm had turned into a modest theme park. They named it Christmas Tree Valley.
An early innovation was turning a big cedar tree on the property into “Mouse Town” with hundreds of toy mice peeking out from various places.
“It was a big hit with little kids,” recalls Lintzenich as he sorts through newspaper clippings documenting Christmas Tree Valley at its zenith. “We told kids they could have a candy cane if they guessed how many mice there were. They always guessed right!”
Lintzenich created a miniature log cabin Christmas village with a stable, church, schoolhouse, hotel, and Santa’s house. He installed model trains that ran through the village to capture children’s imagination. One traveled a circuit of 300 feet between buildings. But perhaps the biggest hit was a big bulletin board where the Lintzenichs posted photos of families who visited Christmas Tree Valley.
“People would come and hunt for photos of themselves from years before,” recalls Lintzenich. They could see their whole family history there, with the kids growing from year to year. They loved that.”
The business grew and grew. At the peak in the 1980s, the Lintzenichs had three tree farms and were planting thousands of Scotch pines each year to keep up with demand. They got help from Boy Scouts, too. Marilyn’s volunteer work as a merit-badge counselor gave scouts an opportunity to earn a forestry merit badge while playing an important part in what had become a community institution.
In spite of all the work that went into Christmas Tree Valley, it never provided much income. “We did it for the children,” Lintzenich says. “Working with kids, building things for them and so forth was the real reason for doing it. If you counted your labor, it was a losing proposition.” The Lintzenichs’ son John eventually took over the tree farm. Apparently he inherited his parents’ civic-mindedness as well. When a tornado decimated Joplin’s trees in 2011, he donated trees for the stricken town’s recovery effort.
What’s the return on investment from half a century of tree planting? Hinds got erosion control, commercial pole timber, wildlife and a ready source of lumber for construction projects. The Meerts’ tree farm helped put six kids through college and earned them a special place in their community. The Lintzenichs earned a little extra cash, provided hands-on experience for a generation of aspiring foresters and stored up a lifetime of memories.
But planting a tree provides something beyond all that, something transcendent. As Aldo Leopold wrote, “Acts of creation are ordinarily reserved for gods and poets. To plant a
pine, one need only own a shovel.”
The Cradle of Missouri Forests
The same year that Bob Hinds and his family planted their first tree, MDC renamed the State Forest Nursery at Licking in honor of George O. White. White began his career with the U.S. Forest Service. In 1934 he selected the site of the facility that now bears his name. He went on to become Missouri’s first state forester and is considered the father of MDC’s Forestry Division.
The nursery was established to grow shortleaf pine seedlings for the newly established Mark Twain National Forest. MDC acquired the 40-acre nursery in a land swap in 1942. It now covers 780 acres and produces 5 million seedlings annually, including more than 70 species of trees, shrubs and prairie plants. In its 77-year history, the state forest nursery has produced hundreds of millions of trees and rebuilt the state’s once-depleted forest resources. For more information about the nursery, including how to order seedlings, see the insert in the middle of this issue the Conservationist, or visit mdc.mo.gov/node/3986.