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Discarded Christmas trees find new life at the bottom of Salem Lake

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- It’s February and the Christmas tree which was once the centerpiece of your holiday decorations is long gone from the curb on which you discarded it. However, weeks after city sanitation workers came to remove it from the roadside, some of the trees are just beginning a longer-term purpose.

While some trees are simply mulched to decorate parks and neighborhoods, others are taken to Salem Lake. In a ritual which -- in relation to other life forms -- would normally be considered somewhat grisly, workers tie the trees to cinder blocks, load them on a boat, transport them into the body of the lake and drop them to the depths.

However, this process is not one of elimination; instead, it’s one of preservation.

“They’re going to provide structure in the water for the fish,” said Bobby Hege, lake program supervisor for the City of Winston-Salem. “Once you sink them, you start to have plankton and algae and other micro invertebrates come and collect around the trees.”

The process of new, smaller forms of life taking to the trees usually takes about three weeks. Once it’s in full force, fish begin to move in.

“It’s really good habitation for bass and crappie,” Hege said.

The workers focus on putting the trees in places which are not a great distance from the Salem Lake Fishing Station. That way, if people rent boats from them, they don’t have to travel very far to find the hotspots which are formed by the trees.

It takes about three years for the trees to break down. However, even after that time period there is some sort of formation left behind.

“The blocks that we use to sink them also provide structure, even once the trees are completely gone,” Hege detailed.

Officials say Salem Lake is one of the top three bass lakes in the state when it comes to catching 3-5 pound bass. Once a year, state officials travel to the lake to electroshock some of the fish there, which is a process where they stun the fish using an electric current, causing them to float to the surface so they can be captured and studied.

“Just kind of get a feel on how our population’s doing, if we have a lot of new bass being bred every year,” Hege said.