A dream that began seven years ago has finally come to fruition for Wessington Springs resident Elton Kaus: to bring old-fashioned holiday fun to the families of Jerauld County by way of a Christmas tree farm.
A project of the heart, Kaus said that he loves the idea of helping families create a Christmas memory that is deep-rooted in history and tradition.
“The pioneers did it and I’m glad to do it. There’s something nostalgic about spending time with your family to find the perfect tree, put your own labor in to cut it and take it home together. This is Christmas,” Kaus said. “It’s a really cool deal to cut your own tree. I’ve never had a fake tree and I never will.”
Big or small, full or slender, Kaus said he has something for everyone. For $40, families can have the quintessential holiday experience of walking together through the snow to select and cut their own Christmas tree. He said it’s not necessary to bring any equipment — whether it’s a chain saw or a hand saw, he has the tools to cut down any of the farm’s trees and is available to offer any level of help needed.
“Seven years and $3,000 of fence to keep the deer out — you can say it’s not a money maker,” he laughed, reflecting on the tree crop that is finally ready for its first harvest after seven years. “I just wanted others to be able to have this experience.”
The six to eight inch Black Hills Spruce and Colorado Blue Spruce saplings Kaus planted seven years ago have grown at a varying rate, with some reaching seven-feet tall. He said the first several years of the growing cycle is slow-going but “in about the third year, the trees get a pretty good kick.”
During warm months, Kaus cares for the trees by keeping weeds trimmed and the grass strip mowed while maintaining the fences and gates to contend with the deer. During dry years he provides the trees with plenty of water.
The Christmas tree farm is located in the pasture just north of the home Kaus shares with his wife Julie at the base of the Wessington Springs foothills west of the 4-H Rodeo Grounds.
“I purposefully planted the trees further north of the approach so that people could have the adventure of walking through the snow and searching for their perfect tree,” Kaus pointed out.
It’s evident that time-honored traditions and family rank high on the list for Kaus. He said that he hopes his adult sons will come back to Wessington Springs with their families to pick out a tree. “Heck, I’ll even deliver if they can’t come back,” he said with a smile.
Future plans include serving hot chocolate and the possibility of bringing the freshly-cut trees back to vehicles with a horse-drawn sleigh. Kaus said he’d like to see his Christmas tree farm become a centerpiece for holiday family outings and a beloved annual tradition for area kids.
“I hope to do it every year as long as we have trees,” he said. “I’d love to be able to sell trees for the next ten years, darn right I would.”