9-year old Blake Coates cuts down a tree for his family at Crest Ranch Christmas Tree Farm on Friday November 26.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Coast Life

Keeping ‘the tradition going for the families’: CZU damage can’t keep Crest Ranch from its holiday mission

After facing the CZU fire last year and navigating COVID-19 restrictions, owners of Christmas tree farms are welcoming visitors back to their farms. They say they’re swamped with customers on their first days of sales.

Louise and Ed Moran, owners of Crest Ranch Christmas Tree Farm in Bonny Doon, are kicking off this holiday season thankful and excited about welcoming customers back to the property they proudly call “the oldest existing choose and cut Christmas tree farm in the Western United States.”

While they estimate they lost about 85% of their Christmas trees to the CZU fire last year (4,000 trees total), seeing families come back for the annual tradition of choosing a tree and cutting it down is bringing the proprietors of the 73-year-old business much-needed joy.

“It feels very good,” said Louise, noting that they plan to replant the lost trees. “It’s very rewarding.”

“It’s raising our spirits,” said Ed, adding that ironically, the fire led to some improvements on their property.

Crest Ranch owners Ed and Louise laugh and embrace on their tree farm Nov. 26, 2021.
Crest Ranch owners Ed and Louise laugh and embrace on their tree farm Nov. 26, 2021.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

He said as a result of the fire, they have more parking and a separate entrance and exit which has vastly improved traffic. In addition, Louise said the burnt trees were turned into wood chips which will be used to add nutrients to the soil.

They have close to 1,000 trees to sell this year — a third of normal — and plan to be open through at least Sunday depending on how the supply lasts. On their first day open, Thanksgiving day, they sold about 175 trees.

The Morans weren’t about to let the devastation of the CZU fire upend their family business. Three of their four adult children live on the property and help out during the selling season.

Two other local farms, which avoided damages from the CZU fire, say the season is off to a great start.

A Christmas tree is prepared for a customer on the Crest Ranch Christmas Tree Farm on Nov. 26, 2021.
A Christmas tree is prepared for a customer on the Crest Ranch Christmas Tree Farm on Nov. 26, 2021.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

Over at Summit Christmas Tree Farm between Highway 17 and Old San Jose Road, owner Debbie Livingstone said this year is shaping up to be quite busy. The farm is open every day for the next three weeks.

“It’s starting out like gangbusters,” she said. “So it should be a very good year.”

One of the most enjoyable parts of the job for Livingstone is seeing families return year after year.

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“We have some people who were brought here by their parents as kids,” she said. “And now they’re bringing their grandkids.

Tom Ward, owner of Ward Ranch in Bonny Doon, said the farm gets busier and busier each year.

“I love it. It’s a lot of work,” he said. “I love having families come here to have fun and enjoy the Christmas season by cutting a tree. It’s joyous work.”

The view at Crest Ranch in Bonny Doon.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Ward said he had a brief scare this season when he thought a shipment of trees from Oregon wasn’t going to make it because of abnormally warm weather drying them out. He was ecstatic to get a phone call confirming he would be getting them in the end.

He hopes to sell around 500 trees, including the farm’s locally grown trees.

Ward Ranch is open every Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday through Dec. 22.

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While each of the farms have unique histories, sizes and offerings, each of the owners share a strong sense of tradition and gratitude for continuing the work despite the challenges.

“We’re grateful to the people who have helped support us,” said Louise Moran. “That’s been huge for helping us to be able to keep the tradition going for the families. And that’s what this is all about.”

Kevin Painchaud assisted with the reporting.

Customers walk with their chosen Christmas tree on Crest Ranch Christmas Tree Farm on Nov. 26, 2021.
Customers walk with their chosen Christmas tree on Crest Ranch Christmas Tree Farm on Nov. 26, 2021.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)