By MeLinda Schnyder
As a Christmas tree farm, Prairie Pines is in the business of selling trees, but just a few years after selling his first tree in 1981, owner Bob Scott realized he wanted do much more than supply trees to Wichitans.
“The best thing we offer is a place to get away from the hectic pace of life,” Scott said. “We encourage people to forget all the pressure for a moment, have a good time, breathe in the fresh air and smell the trees.”
In the spirit of the season, Scott and his family turn the 20-acre tree farm into an old-fashioned Christmas experience. “We sell a lot more fun than we do trees,” Scott said. “We get many people who, while they may not buy a tree, come for the experience and usually buy something.”
Prairie Pines kicks off the season at 9 a.m. the Friday after Thanksgiving with Santa Claus making an elaborate entrance at 11 a.m. Past years have had Santa arriving by train, horse-drawn wagon, covered wagon and Santa has even parachuted out of a airplane.
“Plans are still being made for Santa’s 2017 arrival,” said Scott, adding that readers will have to watch the website, www.prairiepines.com, for his method of arrival this year.
The Prairie Pines “experience” centers around the rustic log barn that Scott built in 1983. It becomes the Christmas Shop, filled with fresh trees decorated with ornaments for sale. Fresh wreaths are made each weekend and decorated with ribbons and treasures. The team also can customize a wreath while you shop, and Scott reminds visitors to shop early for the best selection.
You’ll find Scott mingling with guests around the barn and in the concession building, where you can also find the music department from Maize High School selling cookies and hot chocolate. A free children’s train runs on the weekends, pulled by a small tractor, and horse-drawn and tractor-drawn hayracks are available to take visitors to the fields to choose a tree. The horses are available during select weekend hours.
Also on the weekends, children can visit with Santa in his 100-year-old sleigh while families take a quick snapshot with their cameras. There is no charge to visit with Santa, though donations to his reindeer food fund are accepted.
Two types of trees are available at Prairie Pines: cut-your-own Virginia pine trees grown on the farm or pre-cut Fraser fir and Concolor fir trees that Scott procures from farms in North Carolina and Michigan.
Typically, Scott sells his Kansas-grown choose-and-cut trees by the foot but this year he is charging $69 for any size tree the customer cuts, from 4-feet-tall to 10-feet-tall, though most will average 7 feet. He currently has about 10,000 trees growing on 20 acres of the farm.
Virginia pine trees make excellent Christmas trees because they have a lovely citrus scent, traditional shape and their stout and woody branches can hold a variety of ornaments. The Fraser fir, which doesn’t grow in Kansas but is the most popular tree across the country as a Christmas tree, also has a pleasant scent as well as excellent form and needle retention. Its branches turn slightly upward to create a beautiful shape. The firs are brought in just before the season opening and carefully cared for to ensure the freshest tree possible.
“You can buy a less expensive tree elsewhere, but you can’t get the atmosphere we offer,” Scott said.
Prairie Pines opens for the Christmas season at 9 a.m. the Friday after Thanksgiving. They are open from 3 to 6 p.m. on weekdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. The final day to purchase a tree will be Sunday, Dec. 17, or later by appointment only. “One of the most satisfying aspects of this is that after approximately 40 years of selling trees at the farm, we have second and third generations coming out saying, ‘I started coming out as a child and now I have my grandchild here,’” Scott said.
It’s a family affair for the Scotts, too. Scott, now 80 years old, gets help from his daughter-in-law, who runs the Christmas Shop, and his son, who operates Prairie Pines Playhouse, a year-round murder mystery dinner theater that features a holiday-themed show each winter. This year’s show is “The Maltese Partridge (In a Pear Tree)” running Nov. 17 through Dec. 23 (prairiepinesplayhouse.com). The theater is set in the original tractor barn that has seen several renovations and additions since the theater started in 2004. In 2016, they added three tiers of seating for better viewing.
“We’re proprietors of fun,” Scott said. “Prairie Pines is an old-fashioned Christmas, a beautiful family outing where Christmas memories begin.”