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Christmas trees turn over new leaf as habitats for W.Va. fish

By Megan Workman

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Instead of throwing away his Christmas tree, Bob Swartz said he is happy to give the real tree a second life and he watched as volunteers unloaded the tree from his car and tossed it onto a pile of other pine trees.

Swartz, of Charleston, donated his tree for the second year in a row to a collection program organized by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

For the seventh year, the Rehabilitation Environmental Action Plan -- a state cleanup program within the state DEP -- collected piles of pine trees at the Capitol Market in Charleston. The trees will be used to create fish habitats in lakes across the state.

"I think it's a wonderful idea. The fact that it helps the fish habitat, it's great," Swartz said on Saturday. "I'm a member of Trout Unlimited so I'm really thrilled."

REAP Director Danny Haught said the main objective is "keeping the trees out of the landfill. The trees provide a safe breeding ground [for fish] and protect the fish from predators."

Contractors bundle the Christmas trees with rope, attach a brick and allow them to sink to the bottom of the lake. The trees are recycled in manmade lakes including Sutton, Tygart and Beech Fork lakes because they are the three most popular fishing lakes in the state, he said.

Charleston resident Talmadge Hager enjoys fishing, one reason he has donated his Christmas tree for the past four years. Hager's wife described the program as a way to give the tree another "job" -- its first job is to serve as a Christmas tree and its second job is to create a fish habitat, he said.

"I think it's great because I like to fish so it's a great use of the trees," Hager said. "I think it's a very good way to use the trees and not throw them away."

More than 80 percent of the donated trees come from families, Haught said. Some local businesses and vendors who do not sell all of their trees at the Capitol Market also donated trees.

Last year more than 800 pine trees were donated, the most the program has ever seen, Haught said. By mid-Saturday, nearly 500 trees had been donated.

"This year, I think we'll come close but more people are buying artificial trees," he said. "I'm anxious to see the numbers."

Jane Rothman typically buys artificial Christmas trees because she and her husband travel during the holidays. For the past couple of years, though, they stayed at their South Charleston home and purchased a live tree. The couple is happy to donate the tree for a good cause.

"I love it. Anytime you can be environmentally conscious is great. It's the perfect scenario for unwanted trees," Rothman said.

Hundreds of cars visited the Capitol Market from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday as contractors, REAP volunteers and employees unloaded the trees and threw them into stacks. Those who participated in the free program received a free ice scraper for their car, and were also entered into two contests -- one for a free one-day visit to Winterplace Ski Resort in Ghent and another for a $30 Capitol Market gift card, the event's primary sponsor.

"Most people want to take care of their environment and recycle so it's very supported," Haught said.

The REAP program oversees statewide recycling programs including Adopt-a-Highway as well as other environmental remediation efforts such as cleaning rivers and open dumps.

Reach Megan Workman at megan.workman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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