By Pete Wurdock
What do you get when you combine two former teachers, canoe racers, lumberjack aficionados and tree experts? You get Caroline and Merle Anderson, also known as “The Tree Man and the First Lady of Trees.”
Merle and Caroline Anderson are living an extraordinary life and can’t comprehend the concept of retirement. To walk away from a job you love is difficult. To let go of a legacy is another story.
Merle and Caroline met in Vassar, Mich., when Merle was teaching and coaching baseball. They got married in 1968, moved to the Upper Peninsula, and have owned and operated the Twin Lakes Christmas Tree Farm since 1975.
Merle worked briefly in fish and wildlife and studied biology and conservation as an undergrad before becoming environmentally certified with a master’s degree at Central Michigan University with a vocational certification in natural resources.
Caroline was a speech therapist at Tahquamenon Area Schools and Merle taught natural resources management there. Over 20 years, Anderson got the program vocation certified so students could receive college credits for. He retired in 2001, and like many trade programs, it was eliminated.
Their property, located near Newberry at 4318 Co Rd 460, was purchased in 1975 when it was still a hayfield. The Andersons began by purchasing Christmas trees and reselling them until they planted their own.
“Scotch Pine was king back then,” Merle said. “But today there’s hardly any of that left.”
It takes eight to 10 years for a tree to grow to what is considered the proper height and girth for a common Christmas tree to be cut and bundled for the trip home. On their Twin Lakes plantation they grow Fraser firs, white pine, white spruce, Canaan firs, and Meyers’s Blue spruce trees. The farm is environmentally verified through Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program. MAEAP helps farms of all sizes and commodities voluntarily prevent or minimize agricultural pollution risks.
Driving around on his plantation, Merle knows every inch of the land. He identifies certain rows and trees like they were his own kids.
The Andersons estimates they have about 15,000 trees on 40 acres, and their trees end up in almost all 50 states.
“At one point there were four or five Christmas tree farms in Luce County,” Merle said. “But that’s not the case anymore. We are pretty much it.”
Twin Lakes officially opens to the public the day after Thanksgiving, but prior to that, a few trees have already been tagged or “reserved” by Christmas tree purists who knows exactly what they want.
Twin Lakes also sells trees wholesale to charitable groups who need to make a profit for their organizations.
“Last year we had a great crew,” Caroline said. “We had four of Newberry’s top students working for us.”
Employees learn valuable things about trees and nature, and are taught how to respect others and the importance of working together.
Some days, working out in the elements is not so pleasant, but the Andersons pride themselves on having a fun and educational dynamic at their business. Employees work as a team to make the Christmas tree buying experience a memorable one.
“A customer can come out and cut their own tree and remove it if they desire. Or they can find their tree and we will come and cut it for them, put it on the trailer and haul it in before we send it through the shaker, bale it and then get it in the bed of their truck or on top their vehicle for them,” Merle said.
There are no a-la-carte charges at Twin Lakes. The Andersons’ goal is for every customer to leave satisfied and with the perfect tree for their home.
When December arrives, Twin Lakes comes alive with festive displays. The farm has trains, picture boards, Santas, giant candy canes, artwork and everyone’s favorite: the tape measure where kids get measured each year. Cameras flash, snow flies, and lifelong memories are made.