A group of Anderson County high school students are hoping their second year of Christmas tree recycling can top 2016's big turn-out. The county's Junior Conservation Board is made up of a handful of students, who hope this special project will have big impacts on the place they call home.
"I have grown up in Anderson County, and I've really enjoyed the outdoors and seeing the wildlife," said 16-year-old Katrin Wilson, who is on the junior board. "Fishing and hunting, all that stuff," she explained.
"I've grown up here, and I'd like to put an effort to keep it the way that I remember it when I was little, and be proud of it," said fellow junior board member Heather Ward.
The group is collecting live Christmas trees at Ace Hardware and Carbajal's Garden Center in Lawrenceburg, in a joint effort with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife to provide special homes for fish living in local lakes.
"Fish need a place to escape from other fish," explained Roy Toney, Chairman of the Senior Anderson County Soil Conservation Board.
Once sunken, junior board member Blaine Carpenter says the live Christmas trees will benefit fish populations, and those who enjoy catching them.
"We will put trees down in the water. Fish will be given habitats that will give better fishing spots," Carpenter explained.
"Living in a throw-away society, we just thought perhaps this would be a good way to re-purpose the live trees," said Toney.
The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife says fish aren't the only underwater animals who enjoy the Christmas trees. In a post to their website the department explains that, "KDFWR will take your tree and combine it with others to create fish attractors for lakes all over the state. These brush reefs provide nesting and rearing habitat for gamefish as well as creating homes for invertebrates and smaller fishes that provide food for larger fish."
It's a project that local conservationists say has really picked up traction in recent years, but isn't necessarily a new idea.
"Fish and Wildlife has been doing habitats for fish for years. They've gone out and cut their own trees and brush, and sunk them," said Katrin's father, senior board member Mike Wilson.
However, this makes the second year that Wilson can remember seeing recycled Christmas trees being used for those habitats.
The end of 2016 marked the first organized, Christmas tree collection drive in Anderson County. Board members say they were skeptical of how successful it would be, but were pleasantly surprised with the response.
"Who uses live trees anymore," Toney jokingly asked. "I didn't know that many people still used real trees," said Ward.
"I was shocked with the response we got. There was a bunch of people that would come over and drop off their trees," Katrin reminisced, saying, "It was just nice to see that people were willing to make a difference."
State officials now have dozens of drop-off sites located around the Commonwealth. In Lawrenceburg, for example, the Kentucky Barns company built the group an open shed outside of Ace Hardware, to house the recycled Christmas trees. The set-up is similar at other drop-off sites, where folks can drive up and leave their tree at any time.
It's a convenience that Mike Wilson says helped make last year a success. "We had people from Mercer County, and all the surrounding counties, bringing trees. It wasn't only just Anderson County residents dropping trees off," he explained.
Organized by Anderson County Conservation District administrator Beverly McElwain, the junior board is still growing, as is their Christmas tree initiative. However, dozens of trees were already dropped off on Sunday, and collections will continue into January.
Board members say it is a hopeful start to their second annual drive, and a hopeful glimpse of the future of Anderson County conservation efforts.
"It seems like more and more younger people are not being involved in outdoors and agriculture and stuff like that...and we need them," said Wilson.
You can find a drop-off location closest to you, in the chart attached to this story in the top, right portion of the article under "Related Documents."