Rist Canyon Christmas Trees — A ‘lot’ of fun | TheFencePost.com

Rist Canyon Christmas Trees — A ‘lot’ of fun

A snowy cold day for cutting the perfect fresh trees that now head to the Rist Canyon Christmas Tree lot. Courtesy photo

With the calendar pages fast-approaching Christmas, the tangy scent of the holiday’s traditional trees is in the air. Also on the breeze are the winds of change. One place where both blow most fragrantly is at the Rist Canyon Christmas Trees lot in Laporte, Colo.

Owner Dustin Watkins is taking on a whole new forest of responsibilities this year. He not only purchased Jack Tamlin’s decades-long thriving business, Tamlins’ Fresh Cut Trees, but also is applying lessons learned from Tamlin and a six-year-long stint spent running his own lot.

Dustan Watkins stocks some of his largest fresh-cut Christmas trees for his lots opening day. Courtesy photo

But for quite a while, Watkins wanted to expand; and, in September 2022, the timing became perfect.


The Tamlin family began commercially harvesting wild-grown trees in the 1930s, and Jack ran the family business for nearly six decades. Richard Tamlin (Jack’s uncle) and Richard Salisbury assumed management of the company from 1956 to 1960. Then Richard handed the saws over to Jack, who’d begun helping his dad at the tender age of 5. The little lad had earned 5 cents for each tree he could carry out of a cutting area.

Tamlin knows so much about his trade he’s even been called “The Tree Wiseman.” As recently as last year, at age 76, he was still able to carry up to five or six felled firs at a time by stacking two to four under each arm and dragging them out by hand. Those were 6- to 10-foot tall trees weighing 15-20 pounds each. Tamlin’s successful method was to go a ways, get down on his knees to rest, and then press on for up to 200 more yards. Oh, Tannenbaum!

A snowy cold day for cutting the perfect fresh trees that now head to the Rist Canyon Christmas Tree lot. Courtesy photo

Tamlin might have cut his teeth on pine bark, but his many other career accomplishments have included working with the U.S. Forest Service from 1960-1964 as crew boss at the Buckhorn Ranger Station, and creating topographical maps for the U.S. Geological Service in 1959. In 1968 and ’69, he worked for the Forest Service at Stub Creek Ranger Station.

He fought more than 300 forest fires across the country, unofficially beginning at age 6 when he supplied water to firefighters on the lines (now a big no-no until age 18, but a somewhat less enforced taboo in the early 1950s).

A happy Rist Canyon Christmas Tree customer leaves the lot the lot in style. Courtesy photo

Tamlin has always sought to conserve natural resources and promote re-growth in forested areas where he cut his Christmas inventory. To replenish tree numbers, he leaves one lower limb attached to the roots. Eventually a new tree regenerates from the procedure.

Watkins employs the same technique but also thins, farms and prunes to aid future growth.


One of the “lower limbs” Tamlin preserved throughout his woodland lifetime became a new “tree” this past September, when Watkins began his new Christmas tree business regenerated from Tamlin’s.

His health somewhat declining, and with five or more years of wildfires having decimated some of his prime cutting locales, Tamlin set aside most of his tree-harvesting tools. He does, however, continue to cut and haul trees to his two longest and best retail outlets, Fort Collins Nursery and Eaton Grove.

Owner Dustan Watkins hauls one of many fresh loads of Native Christmas trees down the mountain and to his Rist Canyon Christmas Tree lot in Laporte. Courtesy photo

Meanwhile, Dustin Watkins is certainly no newbie to the tree trade. The 33-year-old grew up in Rist Canyon, where he, brother Nick, and their parents cut and sold 100 cords of firewood per year. Later branching out, so to speak, Watkins became a licensed, insured and certified arborist.

He began cutting and selling native Colorado Christmas trees on his original lot near Vern’s and Revive Church. While harvesting, he met and became good friends with Tamlin. They frequently helped one another with the heavy work involved. Watkins long-wanted to expand his seasonal tree sales. Would Tamlin ever want to sell his business? The answer was always no… until it became yes.

“We’d worked side by side for the past seven years, with Jack cutting for both our lots,” said Watkins, adding that both men knew a buy-out would eventually happen.

Rist Canyon Christmas Trees is located right where Tamlin’s lot had stood: 2801 North Shields in Laporte. Per season, Watkins expects to find holiday homes for 1,800-2,000 trees. The majority of these beauties come from Walden and southern Colorado.

It’s not easy work cutting and hauling a load of up to 100 cut trees per day up and down logging roads! Watkins spends up to three months on the endeavor, start to finish.

Local species he harvests include Alpine Fir and Lodgewood Pine; Concolor Firs hale from a private ranch in southern Colorado; Balsam Firs are the only ones to make the long journey to Colorado from Wisconsin. The beautiful trees and their awesome aromas offered to customers make all the hard labor more than worthwhile.


“I love the lot and its atmosphere.” Watkins said. “Especially when I get to watch families bond over the trees they select.”

That statement makes perfect sense since Watkins himself is part of a close-knit extended family. His wife, Brianne Watkins (a registered nurse), cashiers at the tree lot on weekends. His mother and stepfather, Russ and Jeannie Mounts, will help run the lot as they did the original one for the past six years. Jeannie also lends a creative hand, crafting fresh wreaths and swags for sale. Dustin’s older brother Nick continues to cut trees with Watkins. Other family members and friends will work part-time at the Laporte lot.

Fresh handmade wreaths and charming log reindeer await a trip home with the perfect Rist Canyon Christmas Tree. Courtesy photo

Just as human family members come in all shapes and sizes, Watkins’ trees range from small, tabletop sizes up to 24-foot tall giants. He noted that his Rist Canyon Christmas Trees will offer more balsams than did Tamlin’s lot, plus many nice individuals of the Concolor species.

Watkins harvests trees 15-20 years old that grow at 9,000-10,000 feet or higher. He advised that his trees are so fresh that they often remain green until April!

Be sure to take the kiddos along to pick out your family tree, as Santa Claus might be available to visit with young customers at the lot. Next year Santa might even bring along a reindeer or two. Call or check online to verify regular hours and updates for special happenings.

Beginning Nov. 19, lot hours are Mon-Thurs, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. and Fri-Sun, 8 a.m.- 8 p.m. For further information, contact Dustin Watkins at (970) 215-9869. Please note that this is the busiest time of his year (as it is for Santa), so questions might be addressed quicker by visiting Facebook or Google under Rist Canyon Christmas Trees.

More Like This, Tap A Topic