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Thousands of Christmas trees turn city's old landfill into a home for wildlife

In this file photo from Feb. 8, 2010, a pile of discarded Christmas trees that the city has recycled to create a wildlife habitat sits on land northwest of the city near the Kansas river levee.

Piled in wide rows on a relatively barren stretch of ground are the remains of thousands of trees from Christmases past.

The rows of decomposing evergreens sit atop what was once the city’s landfill, long closed and covered with earth. Solid Waste Operations Supervisor Craig Pruett said the trees are an item that can be removed from the waste stream and reused.

“They don’t weigh a lot, but do take up space,” Pruett said. “It’s just one less thing that is going to the landfill.”

Since the city’s Christmas tree recycling program began in the early '90s, Pruett estimates that as many as 50,000 trees have been saved from the city’s new landfill and brought to the site.

The old landfill site was abandoned decades ago and is located within what is now Riverfront Park. Pruett said the trees are deposited into rows, about 15 feet wide and up to 80 feet long, to provide a habitat for wildlife.

“So there is this long tube of Christmas trees that are compressed and pushed up against each other,” Pruett said. “And so that creates a bit of a barrier for a larger animal to try to get into. Birds can fly in there or rabbits may make their bedding in the areas underneath.”

As the old trees decompose, Pruett said city staff uses machinery to press and rearrange the remaining tree material. Large roll-off containers of the newly collected trees are then deposited, forming new rows.

Over the past few years, the city has picked up about 2,000 Christmas trees per year, according to information from the solid waste department. No collection figures are available from when the program began, but Pruett said the number of trees collected is trending downward, likely due to increased use of artificial trees.

Riverfront Park borders the eastern edge of the Kansas River and includes public walking trails. Pruett said the city continues to improve the site, and he thinks the entire area provides a good place for walking that most would not realize was once a landfill site.

“It’s a pretty cool area to go out and see what an old landfill can become and the space that you can create,” Pruett said.

As in years past, the city’s solid waste division will do its annual collection of live-cut Christmas trees during the first week in January. Residents should remove all artificial items, such as tinsel, lights, ornaments and tree stands.

Due to the New Year’s Day holiday, the solid waste collection schedule shifts one day, and tree pickup will be Tuesday through Saturday. Trees must be at the curb or alley by 6 a.m. on residents’ service day to be picked up.

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