If you’re in search of the perfect Christmas tree, a great place to look is Whispering Pines Tree Farm in Oconto. It’s in an ideal holiday location, not quite over the river but definitely through the woods, just north of Green Bay along Oconto Electric Cooperative’s lines. It’s also known for producing trees that are about as close to perfection as possible, so much so that a Whispering Pines tree is on display in the White House this holiday season (see related article on pages 10 and 11). A tree from Whispering Pines can make your house feel just as grand.
“We invite everyone to come out and get a real tree—something real and special from Wisconsin,” said Dave Vander Velden, who owns Whispering Pines Tree Farm with his wife, Mary.
However, even if you’re not in the market for a real tree, you’ll find that there’s a lot to take back from a trip to Whispering Pines. Every visit to this festive farm from Thanksgiving weekend through the end of December—whether the aim is finding a tree or not—comes with a big helping of holiday spirit. There’s so much yuletide cheer here that it likely would have put a smile on the face of old Scrooge himself.
For starters, there are the trees—thousands and thousands of trees of all types and sizes. Balsam firs, Fraser firs, Scotch pines, and white pines grow over 200 acres of property, forming a veritable Christmas tree forest. A walk through these rows upon rows of evergreens on a crisp winter day, with the scent of pine permeating the air, is a magical holiday experience in itself.
Then there’s the jolly transportation out to the trees. Visitors can pick up a saw, climb aboard a wagon pulled by either sleigh bell-adorned horses or an antique tractor, and enjoy a ride into the woods. Guests are dropped off at the lot with the tree type of their choice, where they are free to wander through the rows until they’ve found their perfect Christmas tree.
Wagons pick up the guests and return them—and their trees—back to the lodge where the trees are shaken to remove any loose, inner needles and baled for ease of transport home. There’s also a big supply of pre-cut trees on hand for those who’d prefer a faster and more convenient option. Smiling employees are readily available to help load the trees on and off the wagons and onto cars.
While the wagon rides are fun, young guests especially enjoy riding through the woods in a Whispering Pines Express Train, including one with a bright blue engine that always draws a crowd of eager little passengers.
“Kids come running out of the building to watch that train come by,” Vander Velden said. “Their eyes just light up.”
Another Whispering Pines Express Train has a green engine. To help accommodate the many enthusiastic train riders, Whispering Pines built a third train this year, with a bright red engine.
Back at the cozy lodge, visitors can warm up with a free cup of hot cocoa (donations are gratefully accepted and go toward the purchase of dog respirators for area fire departments). Guests can also refuel with Christmas cookies, fresh popcorn, or hot dogs as they take in all the other holiday activities available.
Santa spends three weekends in his special shop on the site, gathering wish lists from young guests. A portrait service is on site to capture the moment. Adjacent to Santa’s shop is the reindeer shed, housing a special attraction that was added last year—a life-size mechanical reindeer that sings Christmas songs and talks to guests. click here to see the reindeer sing Just as fun are the live alpacas that are available on weekends. Children especially enjoy getting close to these gentle animals.
The spacious holiday shop at Whispering Pines gets a jump on the cut-your-own tree business, opening in mid-November and remaining open daily through Christmas Eve. Here, shoppers will find just about any kind of Christmas ornament imaginable plus a wide range of other holiday décor, including wreaths, nutcrackers, angels, Santas, Christmas village pieces, and other holiday-themed displays.
Even wandering about the grounds around the lodge is a treat. The entire property is gaily decorated with giant inflatables and holiday cutouts, offering fun photo opportunities at every corner. Weekend guests might also run into “Rudy the Reindeer,” who typically greets visitors outside of Santa’s shop, giving hugs and posing for pictures.
Creating a complete holiday experience is something Vander Velden says he enjoys most about operating Whispering Pines, pointing out that a cut-your-own tree farm is about more than just providing a Christmas tree. “It’s about holiday traditions and making memories,” he said.
Whispering Pines Tree Farm is located at 3694 Airport Road, Oconto. An additional tree lot, without the added attractions, is located at 5149 Thome Road, Oconto, and a retail lot is open at 1200 South Webster Avenue, Green Bay. The farm opens November 25 and remains open daily through the holidays; check the website, whisperingpinestreefarm.com, for dates and times of specific attractions, or call 920-835-TREE.