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Bike-powered Christmas tree pickup aims to tackle sustainability goals

Record-Eagle photos/Jan-Michael Stump
Luke Krolikowski picks up a discarded Christmas tree outside a home on Incochee Road in Traverse City to take it to the city’s tree drop-off site as part of a Norte Youth Cycling fundraiser. Money raised through the program helps fund the group’s programs.

Luke Krolinkowski walks his bike up a steep hill in a western Traverse City neighborhood. He has been biking for about an hour now.

Hitched to the back is a bright orange trailer which is used to carry some special deliveries: old Christmas trees.

Today, Krolinkowski is an elf — what Norte calls its team of volunteers that ride around Traverse City, picking up roadside trees.

They do it all by bike. And even though Krolinkowski is an active guy, it can be an exhausting task.

“I have another tree to pick up back the way I came,” he said. “But I try to plan it out strategically because I knew this was a gnarly hill.”

Norte is a Traverse City nonprofit that’s all about getting more people on bikes. It advocates for safe, walkable streets and instilling healthy habits in children.

But when the holidays come around, Norte “elves” like Krolinkowski hit the streets helping to recycle live trees.

Gary Howe is Norte’s advocacy and communications director. He also sits on the city’s active transportation committee.

He said bike-powering Christmas tree removal helps the city tackle important sustainability goals like cutting down car emissions.

Bike services are common in most major cities and are often critical to transportation, delivery and messaging infrastructure. Howe said they are just as important in growing communities like Traverse City.

“I think most of us can kind of close your eyes and picture something in New York City where all the deliveries and pickups are by bike,” Howe said. “Bikes are a reliable way to get your chores done — even moving heavy stuff. With the right tools, you can do pretty much anything on a bike.”

Norte’s bike-powered Christmas Tree Pickup normally gets between 30 and 50 requests a year. The program started in 2018.

To request a pickup, a minimum $25 donation is required. The money supports Norte’s multiple bike clubs, events and Kid’s Bike Library.

So after an “elf” like Krolinkowski picks them up, where do the trees go?

The City’s Parks and Recreation Division offers a Christmas Tree drop-off site at Hull Park on Boardman Lake. The spot is marked with signs and a scattering of pine needles.

The trees are hauled away to a facility on North Keystone Road which is used to store loads of organic material.

Parks and Recreation Superintendent Michelle Hunt said every part of the tree is recycled — sometimes for composting, other times for wood chips that can be found scattered on the city’s parks and trails.

“We want people to feel good about the fact that they had a live Christmas tree in their house. That's a really important tradition to keep up,” Hunt said. “That’s why we need to use every part of the tree.”

Bike-powered tree pickup is only available within the city limits.

Howe says he hopes more residents will use the program in the years to come.

Michael Livingston covers the area around the Straits of Mackinac - including Cheboygan, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties as a Report for America corps member.