Give Natural Christmas Trees a Second Life

Folks can drop off their natural Christmas trees at the maintenance area of Hammocks Beach State Park in Swansboro. Photo: Jennifer Allen

Now that the holidays are over and the work of natural Christmas trees is done, the trees can retire to the beach.

The live trees with all decorations removed are being collected up and down the coast to be used for dune restoration.

In Swansboro, natural trees with all decorations removed can be taken to Hammocks Beach State Park. Drop off trees during park hours 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the park maintenance area.

Jacob Vitak, park ranger with the state park, said the trees will be placed along the beach of the uninhabited Bear Island where sand dunes were before Hurricane Florence in 2018. That storm and other storms after leveled much of the dune line.

“These small pine trees act as a makeshift sand fence and it is a good way to put them to use. The park normally erects wooden fences in small areas to build new dunes. The fences and post cost money and we can offset that cost by using trees,” he told Coastal Review Online. “The trees are not as good as the fence, but they are free and can help get a new dune line started. We will be collecting trees at our maintenance area for a few more days. We will stop when we reach our capacity to move them to Bear Island.”

Fort Macon State Park in Atlantic Beach is again collecting Christmas trees for dune stabilization.

“All folks need to do is be sure to remove all Christmas ornaments and synthetic decorations like tinsel and then bring them to the park,” said Park Ranger Benjamin Fleming. When entering the park, signs are posted to direct visitors where the trees are needed.

“We take the trees out onto the beach where they very quickly start to accumulate windblown sand and usually within a couple of weeks they start to form small dunes,” he said. “Once the dunes start to grow other vegetation can take root, which helps to increase the dune stabilization, and it will start to grow larger.”

Fleming said that Fort Macon has had this program in place since the 1960s and “it is the reason why we now have the very popular recreation beach here on the inlet. It is also why we had very little direct damage to our visitor center and Fort Macon. Without the dunes we currently have, we might have received damage from storm surge like many other areas saw.”

He added that Fort Macon is not collecting Christmas wreaths because of the metal frames and is not collecting any other kind of yard debris.

Cub scouts from Troop No. 130 Morehead City placing trees in the sand dunes at Fort Macon State Park. Photo: Randy Newman

Better Beaches OBX has been collecting trees since 2013 and is collecting Christmas trees this year for dune restoration projects on the Outer Banks.

“We are accepting them at Ocean Boulevard as well as at the Islander Motel in Nags Head. We could use a lot of help when we go to put them on the beach in Kitty Hawk and Nags Head after Jan. 18,” founder Donny King told Coastal Review Online. “We need either open trailers, pickup trucks, or empty work vans for transport as well as helping hands.”

The organization is currently raising funds to move 1,000 trees Chicho’s Pizza collected at their six locations in Virginia Beach, according to a Facebook post. The folks at Chicho’s are expecting to drop off the trees Jan. 18 and will help place the trees in areas on the beach. The fundraiser through Facebook is to rent a box truck for the following two weeks to transport the trees to various areas.

“With the rental of a Box Truck, we can better ensure that our volunteers can secure the trees in the best areas, making washouts less likely and giving us time to secure them so they don’t blow down the beach in bigger winds. We are also making biodegradable stakes for them where necessary,” the post states. “Any funds left over from the vehicle rental(s) will be used for more Beach Grass to plant in the areas where we put the trees as well.”

Better Beaches OBX shared this photo on Facebook in July of how natural Christmas trees places in January to help build up dunes. Photo: Better Beaches OBX

Also on the Outer Banks, Boy Scout Troop 117 in Kitty Hawk will pick up tinsel-free trees Saturday and Jan. 11.

Homeowners can make a $200 donation for the Scouts to put the trees on their dunes. Ten trees are recommended for narrow lots and 20 trees are recommended for wider lots. Tree pickup is free but the Scouts welcome donations. The donations go to protect the environment but also help provide resources for the Scouts.

The Scouts will place and the secure clean, decoration-free trees on the dune line. There are a limited number of reservations. Schedule a pickup or order dune protection at www.troop117obx.org/products.

Residents also have the option to drop off trees at Kitty Hawk Bath House, 3840 N. Virginia Dare Trail, in the grassy area or place in the right-of-way in front of residential houses for public works staff to pick up.

In Nags Head, residents can place their natural Christmas tree by the side of the road in front of their property throughout the month, according to the town. Workers will make several passes to collect the trees. Property owners and residents also have the option to drop the Christmas tree off at the bulk item/brush collection yard on Lark Avenue from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays.

All Christmas trees that are collected by Nags Head or dropped off at the collection yard will be repurposed by Scouts.

In Southern Shores, Christmas trees may be placed in branch piles for collection, according to the town’s website.

While Dare County Public Works does not pick up Christmas trees left on the curbside in the unincorporated areas, residents can drop off trees at the Dare County Public Works Recycling Center at 1018 Driftwood Drive in Manteo, or at the Buxton Transfer Facility at 47027 Buxton Back Road, the county announced.

In Carolina Beach, the Surfrider Foundation Cape Fear Chapter and the town are holding the annual Christmas tree recycling and dune restoration project 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Jan. 25 at the Sand Piper Beach Access, per the Facebook page. The town collects the Christmas trees to be placed on the dunes during the event.

Volunteers should bring a shovel, tape measure and scissors for the yearly project that helps rebuild natural habitat, protect oceanfront property and divert the old trees from the landfill. There will be donuts from Wake N Bake Donuts and coffee from North End Cafe to-go. The Cape Fear chapter of the Surfrider Foundation and the town have worked together since 2011 to reuse the Christmas trees collected by the town to help sustain and expand the protective dune field.

New Hanover County residents can recycle their Christmas trees through Jan. 15. The real trees and wreaths can be dropped off at one of three locations in New Hanover County during daylight hours: Home Depot in Monkey JunctionHome Depot on Eastwood Road or the county landfill. Call 910-798-4400 for more information about the service that is a partnership of New Hanover County Environmental Management, the Wilmington Solid Waste Division and Home Depot.

Wilmington will recycle the Christmas trees of city trash customers, according to the city’s website. All decorations and lights from the tree must be removed before putting the tree curbside with any other vegetative debris on normal service day.

Brunswick County Landfill is recycling natural Christmas trees at no charge through Jan. 31. The trees can also be dropped off at a county convenience center for $5. String lights and cords can be recycled at the convenience centers year-round, according to the county. Brunswick County adds the recycled trees to yard waste and made into mulch, which is available to residents for free.

Know of other programs collecting trees? Send the information to jennifera@nccoast.org to be included.

About the Author

Jennifer Allen

Born and raised in Swansboro, Jennifer Allen graduated from Appalachian State University in 2002 and picked up a second degree from UNC-Charlotte the following year. She joined the staff of the Carteret County News-Times in Morehead City in 2005 and completed her master's at UNC-Wilmington in 2008. Jenn spent nine years writing and editing at the News-Times before joining the staff at the Town of Beaufort in 2014, where she served as public information officer and town clerk. On June 1, 2017, Jenn came aboard as assistant editor for Coastal Review Online. She has also written for Our State Magazine and other regional and statewide publications. She lives in Morehead City with her fiancé and their pups, Z, Gus and Willa.