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Christmas chopping

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Arden Cogar Jr. can chop down a 12-inch-diameter tree in 13 seconds. A lawyer by day, Cogar spends his weekends traveling to lumberjack competitions from his Hamlin, W.Va., home. A member of the U.S. National Lumberjack Team, Cogar has earned 32 world championships in wood-chopping and cross-cut sawing. He's a regular in ESPN's Great Outdoor Games.

"My dad and his dad were loggers, so I grew up doing this," Cogar says. "To me, it's second nature."

To most Chicago-area dwellers, though, wielding sharp saws and axes is not second nature. But, once a year, you can be a lumberjack for a day at one of the area's Christmas tree farms that allow customers to do their own tree-chopping. Most of the farms listed here offer saws, but bring your own just in case. "Buy a new, double-bladed one," Cogar says.

Most also offer free tree-shaking (to get rid of loose needles) and baling. The farmers supply twine, but suggest you bring a blanket to protect your car from scratches and help keep your tree from drying out. Some accept only credit cards, while some accept only personal checks.

Most important, says Cogar, "Be safe and be careful."

Anderson Tree Farm

Three miles west of Plainfield on Illinois Highway 126. 815-436-2140. Hours: 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily. Trees: Scotch and white pine, Douglas, balsam and Canaan fir. Cost: $6.50 per foot for most trees. Attractions: 100 animals including emus, alpacas, miniature horses and wallabies; free hot chocolate and popcorn; free hayrides, golf cart rides to the trees. Also available: gifts, wreaths, roping.

Ben's Christmas Tree Farm

Ryan Road off Illinois Highway 173, five miles west of Harvard. 630-279-0216. www.benstreefarm.com. Hours: 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Nov. 26 and weekends, 10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. weekdays through Dec. 19. Trees: Fraser, balsam, Douglas, Canaan and concolor fir; Scotch, white and red pine, blue spruce. Cost: Scotch, white and red pine, $19.95-$39; fir and spruce, $8 per foot (6-foot minimum). Organically grown and pesticide-free. Attractions: Santa Claus, free horse-drawn wagon rides, farm animals, craft shop, nature trail, cider doughnuts, free hot drinks. Also available: Fraser fir wreaths, garlands, boughs, tabletop trees, cathedral ceiling trees up to 14 feet, pre-cut trees, spike stands.

Ben's Fraser Fir Farm

One mile south of intersection of Illinois Highway 173 and Capron Road, west of Harvard. 630-279-3227. www.benstreefarm.com. Hours: 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Nov. 26 and weekends through Dec. 19. Trees: Organically grown Fraser, balsam, Douglas and concolor fir 6-10 feet, variety tabletop trees, unpruned cathedral ceiling trees 14-16 feet. Cost: Most $8/foot except some $40 Frasers. Attractions: free wagon rides, hot chocolate, coffee.

Bengtson Christmas Tree Farms

On Laraway Road, between U.S. Highway 45 and Harlem Avenue, Frankfort. 815-464-0352. www.christmastreefarms.com. Hours: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. weekdays; 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun. through Dec. 23. Trees: Scotch pine and variety of firs. Cost: $40 for Scotch pine, $55 for firs. Also available: pre-cut Colorado spruces, wreaths.

Camelot Christmas Tree Farm

16380 S. Somonauk Rd., DeKalb. 815-756-6599. www.camelottrees.com. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekends through Dec. 19. Trees: Balsam, concolor and Fraser fir; Scotch and white pine. Cost: $30. Attractions: free hot chocolate, coffee and homemade cookies.

Cupola House Tree Farm

Take Illinois Highway 102 four miles northwest from Bourbonnais, then go south on N. 3000W Rd. and follow the signs. 815-932-6635. Hours: 8:30 a.m. until dark daily through Dec. 21. Trees: Scotch and white pine; Fraser, balsam and Douglas fir, Colorado blue and Norway spruce. Organically grown and pesticide-free. Cost: $4 per foot for pines; $6 per foot for firs and spruces. Attractions: wood fire, hayrides, hot drinks. Also available: balled-and-burlapped live trees, potted trees, wreaths, garlands.

Family Christmas Tree Farm

Illinois Highway 59 and Petite Lake Road, Lake Villa. 847-949-0172. Hours: noon-dark weekdays, 9 a.m.-dark weekends through Dec. 23. Trees: Scotch and white pine. Cost $38. Attractions: hayrides. Also available: pre-cut balsam firs for $35 to $90, wreaths, roping, crafts.

Harmas Farm of Delavan

N4865 County Rd. M off U.S. Highway 14, Delavan, Wis. 262-728-8381 or 866-206-6046. www.cutyourownchristmastrees.com. (See Web site for map and more information.) Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily through Dec. 24. Trees: Balsam and Fraser fir; white and Colorado blue spruce. Cost: $6 per foot. Also available: pre-cut Balsam fir and white spruce. Bring your own saw. Free evergreens boughs with tree purchase. Specialty: 10- to 20-foot trees.

Hayden Tree Farm

42880 N. Hunt Club Rd., 1 1/2 miles north of Illinois Highway 173, east of Antioch. 847-395-4127. Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekends until sold out. Trees: white and Scotch pine, Douglas and white fir and spruce. Cost: under 5 feet, $40; white and Scotch pine 5 feet and more, $45; spruces and firs 5 feet and more, $50. Attractions: Free cocoa, tea and coffee; sleds (for trees or children).

Henning's Hooterville Christmas Tree Farm

39697 N. Beck Rd., Lake Villa. 847-395-4424. Hours: 3-7 p.m. Wed. and Thu., noon-7 p.m. Fri., 8 a.m.-7 p.m. weekends, closed Mon. and Tue. through Dec. 22. Trees: Scotch pine. Cost: $40. Attractions: gift/craft shop with fireplace, costumed characters on Saturdays, Santa Claus on Sundays, cider, hot chocolate, cookies. Also available: pre-cut firs and pines, $20-$120; wreaths, firewood.

Honeybee Acres Christmas Tree Farm

41W072 Bowes Rd., Elgin. 847-464-9627. Hours: 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Fri.-Sun. through Dec. 5. Trees: Scotch pine, spruce, fir. Cost: $34-$44. Attractions: hot cider, cookies, farm animals. Also available: wreaths, garlands. Bring your own saw. No dogs, please.

Luers' Christmas Tree Farm

6303 W. 91st Ave., Crown Point, Ind. 219-663-2832. Hours: noon-5 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekends. Trees: Scotch pine, spruce and fir. Cost: Usually, $4.50 per foot for Scotch pine and $5.50 per foot for spruce and fir. Attractions: hot chocolate, warming room with fireplace. Also available: garlands, wreaths, roping, pre-cut balsams and Fraser firs.

Marmion Abbey Tree Farm

850 Butterfield Rd., Aurora. 630-897-7215, ext. 339. www.marmion.org. Hours: 9 a.m.-dark daily through Dec. 23. Trees: Austrian, white and Scotch pine, spruce. Cost: $20-$30. Also available: wreaths, swags, crosses made of boughs.

Nature's Best Christmas Trees

13001 Illinois Highway 76, Poplar Grove. 815-765-2960. Hours: 8 a.m.-dusk daily through Dec. 19. Trees: Choose and cut white and Scotch pines; Canaan and Douglas firs; and Black Hills, Norway and blue spruce; pre-cut fraser and balsam firs (kept in water). Cost: $8.50 per foot for pre-cut trees, $6 per foot for white and Scotch pines, $8 per foot for others. Attractions: hot chocolate and Santa 1 p.m.-4p.m. Dec. 4 and 11. Also available: Home-made wreaths, garlands, swags, live centerpieces and specialty-shaped wreaths.

Oney's Christmas Tree Farm

16608 U.S. Highway 14, near Woodstock. 815-338-4108. www.oneystreefarm.com. Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily through Dec. 12. Trees: Scotch, red and white pine; blue, green, white, Serbian and Norway spruce; concolor and Fraser fir, plus limited supply of Douglas fir. Cost: $49 for 4- to 9-foot pines, $125 for 10- to 15-foot pines, $60 for firs. Daily attractions: reindeer, evergreen maze, gift shop. Weekend attractions: Mrs. Claus in the North Pole House, horse-drawn wagon rides, pony rides, lunches, baked goods. Also available: pre-cut trees, balled-and-burlapped trees, garlands, centerpieces, wreaths, specialty evergreens including holly.

Our Holiday Farm

3206 E. 19th Rd., Ottawa. 815-434-6388. www.ourholidayfarm.com. Hours: 3-6 p.m. weekdays, 8 a.m.-dark Sat., 10 a.m.-dark Sun. through Dec. 23. Trees: blue and white spruce, Fraser and concolor fir, Scotch and white pine. Cost: $34-$60. Attractions: hayrides, soup, hot chocolate, apple cider, homemade cookies. Also available: wreaths, gifts, pre-cut Fraser firs, 6 to 10 feet, for $45-$85.

Paul's Tree Farm

16239 W. Beloit Newark Rd., Brodhead, Wis. 608-897-2569. www.paulstreefarm.com. Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily through Christmas. Trees: Scotch, Norway and white pine; white, Norway and blue spruce; Fraser and balsam fir. Cost: $17-$55. Attractions: craft shop. Also available: wreaths and pre-cut pines.

Pine-Apple Tree Farm

309 Three Oaks Rd., Cary. 847-639-3248. www.pine-applefarm.com. Hours: 9 a.m.-dark Nov. 26 and weekends until sold out. Trees: Douglas fir, Colorado blue and Black Hills spruce, Scotch pine. Cost: $55-$75 (including taxes). Also available: wreaths, pre-cut Fraser and balsam firs.

Pioneer Tree Farm

Three miles north of McHenry on Pioneer Road, a half-mile from Illinois Highway 31. 815-385-8512, www.pioneertreefarm.com. Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Nov. 26, then weekends through Dec. 19. Trees: Scotch pine and spruce. Cost: $35. Attractions: Crafts, wreaths, boughs, wagon rides, warming house, hot cocoa, coffee. Ten percent of all sales will be donated to the McHenry County Defenders, a group that is dedicated to the preservation and improvement of the environment.

Spring Bluff Nursery

41W130 Norris Rd., Sugar Grove. 630-466-4278. www.springbluffnursery.com. Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Nov. 26, 27, 28, and Dec. 4, 5, 11, 12. Trees: Scotch, white, red and Austrian pine; and spruce. Cost: $35. Attractions: free tractor-pulled hayride, bonfire, hot chocolate. Also available: handmade wreaths with dried flowers, roping.

Tammen Treeberry Farm

37131 Essex Rd., Wilmington. Take Interstate Highway 55 south to the Braidwood exit. Go south through Braidwood, left on Illinois Highway 113, then one mile to Essex Rd. Turn right. 800-892-5989. http://members.aol.com/treeturkey. Hours: 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily. Trees: Scotch and white pine; Fraser, Douglas and Canaan firs. Cost: $35 plus $5 for shaking and baling. Attractions: wooded picnic area with running water and restrooms.

Ziegler Christmas Tree Farm

42W109 McDonald Rd., Elgin. 847-464-5776. Hours: 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Nov. 26 and weekends until sold out. Trees: Balsam and concolor fir; Scotch, Austrian and white pine; and Colorado blue spruce. Cost: $15-$70. Also available: pre-cut trees, wreaths, garlands, crafts, ornaments and potted trees.

Originally published Nov. 26, 2004.

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