URBANA — By the hundreds, evergreens are starting to pile up at the Landscape Recycling Center.
Fraser, Douglas and Balsam firs, blue spruces and pines — they spent weeks as the centerpiece of holiday parties, adorned with sparkling lights, shimmering garlands and colorful ornaments.
Now they're all garbage.
There's enough of them, in fact, that both the cities of Champaign and Urbana are making special runs to pick up trees — for free — from residences.
Curbside pickup started this week and will continue through Jan. 13. Residents can put their tree near the curb on a scheduled collection date before 6 a.m., when it will be whisked off to the Landscape Recycling Center in Urbana at no charge.
In Urbana, trees will be picked up this week and next on residents' regular U-Cycle collection days. Champaign residents will need to refer to an online map (http://bit.ly/xp1ip4 ) to find out which days their neighborhood will be visited.
Officials ask that residents be sure to remove any tinsel, tree stands or other decorations before putting the tree on the curb.
Many of Champaign-Urbana's Christmas trees — once a source of that holiday-provoking evergreen scent and a roof for gifts of various shapes and sizes — soon will serve another purpose: mulch for spring gardens.
Landscape Recycling Center supervisor Kevin Sanderson said the facility is the final destination for the trees that are picked up at residents' curbs. By season's end, he estimates there will be between 500 and 700 trees at the center.
There, they'll be stockpiled for a month or so before they are ground up into a mulch that is best suited for plants that like acidic soils.
That mulch, of which the tress will generate a couple hundred cubic yards, will be sold to those who want a base for their gardens.
The center will collect most of its trees during the next couple weeks, but Sanderson said some will continue to come in even as spring nears.
"They'll still come straggle on in through February, March," Sanderson said.
Mahomet offers a similar program, for which residents can drop off their trees at the Lake of the Woods forest preserve. Tree-luggers can bring their evergreens to the maintenance entrance on Illinois 47 through Jan. 20.
In fact, the Champaign County Forest Preserve accepts trees at three sites: Lake of the Woods, Middle Fork River and Homer Lake. If conditions are right at Homer Lake, officials put the trees to a more creative use, enhancing their fish habitat.
"Algae and moss, stuff like that, grows on the trees and creates a food source for the smaller fish to eat and also gives the smaller fish a place to hide," said Roy Woodmansee, assistant site superintendent at Homer Lake Forest Preserve.
The method ultimately helps smaller fish get bigger — if they can hide in sunken Christmas trees, they can avoid being eaten by bigger fish.
Tree-toters can bring their evergreens to Homer Lake whenever they want during the forest preserve's normal business hours.
Like Champaign and Urbana, the city of Danville is offering curbside pickup for its residents on their normal garbage collection days through Jan. 13. Residents who are concerned about where the tree will go should pay attention to the details: The features of the tree will determine where they will end up.
"If they're flocked or they have tinsel or any other things that aren't natural on them, they will go to the landfill," said David Jones of the Danville Public Works Department. "If they're just natural, they'll go to the yard waste recycling center," where they'll be turned into mulch.