Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes (far left) carries a freshly cut Christmas tree at McLaughlin Tree Farm in Washington Township Nov. 30 with the help of Gregory and Debra McLaughlinFull size photo

Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes (far left) Gregory and Debra McLaughlin's three sons, (left to right) Gabriel, 6, Zacariah, 9, and Matthias 3, and Charles Kuperus

Contact: Julie Willmot
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WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. - With a little help from some youngsters, Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes kicked off the "choose-n-cut" Christmas tree season today by chopping down a tree at the award-winning McLaughlin Tree Farm in Washington Township.

Hughes and New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Charles Kuperus cut the tree at the McLaughlin's 39-acre farm on Old York Road, which this year won the prestigious "Grand Champion" award at the State Championship Christmas tree contest.

"This farm is the first in Washington Township preserved by Mercer County, and it has become a gem of the state's tree farming industry," Hughes said as he held the freshly cut, 6-foot Douglas fir. "It's a perfect example of preservation for the future that also brings joy into homes each year around the holidays."

Hughes added he couldn't have cut the tree without the help of Gregory and Debra McLaughlin's three sons, Zachariah, 9, Gabriel, 6, and Matthias, 3.

Secretary Kuperus added New Jersey recently reached a milestone, preserving 150,000 acres of farmland across the state. The state's 7,500 acres of tree farms, he said, will supply 130,000 New Jersey families with Christmas trees this year.

"Of those 150,000 acres, we stand on 39 at the McLaughlin farm that our children and grandchildren can visit in the future," Kuperus said.

The McLaughlins purchased the tree farm in 1999, but it was preserved by Mercer County in 1996. It is one of 20 preserved farms in Washington Township covering a total of 1,300 acres and represents part of what has been saved through $22 million in government funding. To date, pending state cost-sharing approvals, Mercer County has spent more than $18 million in the township on preservation.

The Christmas tree cut Thursday will be donated to the Washington Township Senior Center in memory of George Probasco, the original owner of the land where the McLaughlin Tree Farm is located. Probasco recently passed away, and his wife, Connie, will place a star atop the tree at the Senior Center in the near future.