CORNVILLE — Bryant LaPlante treats every Christmas tree at his farm with care, and every customer as if he or she were family.

“We sell about 3,500 trees a year and we’ve been planting around 7,000 — pretty much 2-to-1,” LaPlante said. “On every side of every tree, two more are already on the way. We don’t want to clear-cut a field and start over. We hand-plant every tree, and when the tree is cut and there’s a stump there, there’s another one growing on each side.”

LaPlante, 70, has been in the Christmas tree business 44 years at The Forest, on West Ridge Road, where he owns 20 acres and leases a total of 80 acres within a 3-mile radius.

“We’ve got balsam fir and Fraser fir,” he said. “We’ve gone to exotics, but they’re five years away from harvest — Korean fir. They have lime-green needles and they shine. They’re waxy in the daylight. I don’t know if they’ll ever be popular. We’ve got bracted balsam fir, a cross between balsam and Fraser, and they come from Nova Scotia.”

LaPlante loves his customers, enjoys watching children get excited about Christmas and is about as generous as anyone around.

He drove his 320 horse-powered, three-wheel, red 2017 Polaris Slingshot motorcycle in a holiday parade Friday night in Skowhegan and handed out 500 coloring books to children and brochures that explain how a tree farm operates. He calls the motorcycle “Santa’s Sleigh.”

“I had kids flocking all around,” he said. “I went out Halloween and I had a full Spider-Man suit on, head to toe. I had 300 bags of candy. The kids came and surrounded me, getting candy and taking pictures with cellphones. They were chanting, ‘Spider-Man, Spider-Man, Spider-Man!” I gave out all 300 bags.”

‘I love doing everything. I just do, that’s all.’

— Bryant LaPlante

LaPlante also gave the city of Waterville a 50-foot-tall balsam tree when he heard the old blue spruce tree in Castonguay Square had to be cut down because it was diseased. After he read a story about the tree’s demise in the newspaper, LaPlante, a former elementary school teacher in Waterville, called the city’s parks and recreation director, Matt Skehan, and told him he had a tree that would provide a quick fix for him.

“I said, ‘It’s not your answer for the future, but it will get you by now,'” LaPlante recalled telling Skehan. “It’s Christmas, you know. I didn’t hesitate at all to call him.”

LaPlante said he hasn’t yet seen the tree all lit up next to Waterville City Hall, but he plans to drive his big motorcycle to Waterville to see it.

“If it doesn’t snow, I’ll be at Castonguay Square Christmas Eve,” he said. “I’m going to be doing doughnuts around the tree.”

When a customer came in Friday who is a military veteran and LaPlante noticed the man had trouble getting around, he lopped off part of the price of a tree.

“You just got to do things like that, that’s all. You got to use people right.”

Bryant LaPlante places a Santa Claus hat on his stuffed orangutan, named Harry, on Saturday at The Forest, his Christmas tree farm in Cornville.

Bryant LaPlante places a Santa Claus hat on his stuffed orangutan, named Harry, on Saturday at The Forest, his Christmas tree farm in Cornville. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans


The Forest is a fun and happy place, with patrons of all ages filing in to find the just right Christmas tree.

On Saturday, thick, live trees peppered the field behind the office, and those that had been cut down the day before were perched for easy access in stands along the driveway.

As the holiday song “Feliz Navidad” played from an outdoor speaker, Cody Wolfe, one of LaPlante’s three seasonal workers, helped customers cut trees down for customers if they asked. The strong scent of balsam fir wafted through the farm as Wolfe guided trees through a machine that wrapped them in netting and placed them in the backs of patrons’ pickup trucks or cars. While he did so, his black Labrador retriever, Molly, raced around, playing with sticks and greeting customers.

LaPlante also welcomed visitors, many of whom come back year after year to get their Christmas trees. He is a thin, wiry man who wears glasses, a red Santa Claus cap and red shoes and loves to converse and tell stories.

“The majority of people go out, pick out a tree with the kids and they take pictures,” he said. “They’re $5 a foot, $30 for a 6-foot tree. Most of the people you see around town here, their trees come from these fields. We wholesale about 2,800. Two days ago a total stranger drove into the yard and bought 100 trees. He’ll resell them. He has a tree lot in Manchester.”

Some of LaPlante’s trees go up to Moose River; some go to Stratton, Kingfield, Farmington, Lewiston and other places. Next weekend and the weekend afterward will be his biggest weekends for tree sales, he said. Customers buy trees that are anywhere from 3 to 12 feet tall, he said.

“The tree I gave to Waterville was 50 feet, but they cut 20 feet off before they left,” he said.

Dick and Louise Tessier, of Skowhegan, said they have been buying their Christmas trees from LaPlante for years. The Tessiers live about a quarter-mile from the tree farm.

“We usually get a 7-foot tree,” said Louise Tessier, 60. “I just think it’s a very nice service, and it’s handy.”

Dick Tessier, 67, said a natural tree is 20 times better than an artificial one and it’s better for the environment.

“We always like to support a local economy,” he said. “The local economy is tremendously important, and I think it’s going to be more important, with the way the world’s developing.”

Scott and Mary Knight, both 44, of Cornville, also have been buying their holiday trees from The Forest for many years. Emerging from the field with a thick, 8-foot-tall balsam, the couple were smiling.

Scott Knight stands with his new Christmas tree Saturday as Bryant LaPlante, owner of The Forest, a Christmas tree farm in Cornville, stands in the back.

Scott Knight stands with his new Christmas tree Saturday as Bryant LaPlante, owner of The Forest, a Christmas tree farm in Cornville, stands in the back. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

We’ve stopped at other lots, and they’re more expensive than Bryant’s,” Mary Knight said.

Jesse Gerow, toting her son, Cason, on her hip, said she just adores the farm.

“It’s wonderful; that’s why I come here,” the Clinton resident said as she collected her tree with husband, Andrew, and friend Vickie Dixon.

As she paid for their tree in LaPlante’s warm office, LaPlante handed the boy a coloring book.

“If you don’t put the tree up right away, make a fresh cut and be sure to water it,” he told them. They assured him they would be decorating it Saturday night.

Between flurries of customers, LaPlante said it takes eight to 10 years for a tree to go to market, and trees are already 4 years old and a foot tall when he plants them. Nibbling on a holiday doughnut topped with red and green sprinkles, he said the average person probably has no idea what it takes for a tree to go from first growth to their living rooms.

“It’s labor-intensive,” said LaPlante, who also runs his longtime business Tax Smart from the same office.

Married in the 1970s, LaPlante was later divorced and remarried. His second wife, Sylvia, of 16 years, died in 2008 of a massive stroke.

But he has bounced back, and he feels fortunate to be alive.

“I’ve had nine heart operations and cancer last year,” he said. “I’m 70 and I haven’t felt this good since I was 55 years old. There’s nothing I can’t do right now. I feel great. I’ve been blessed. God still has a place for me.”

LaPlante really can’t imagine not having his tree farm

“I love doing everything. I just do, that’s all,” he said. “I love giving. When people want something, I’ll give it to them if I can. It’s just the way I am. I have a great life.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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