Editor’s note: The weekly “Thumbs Up-Thumbs Down” editorial offers opinions on highs and lows in the news.

THUMBS UP: Several local veterans groups certainly have the holiday spirit by providing free Christmas trees for those in need.

For the second straight year, the groups have joined forces for the tree giveaway on Menomonie Street. They will deliver the trees in a 100-mile radius.

“There’s something about a real Christmas tree; the aroma, the look, even the feel,” one of the organizers, Dave Zien, a veteran and former state senator, told the Leader-Telegram’s Erica Jones.

The volunteers are at the site every day until Christmas Eve spreading great cheer. And they deliver.

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THUMBS DOWN: The rural landscape of the Chippewa Valley, and much of Wisconsin, has changed and there’s no going back.

Once the countryside was dotted with idyllic farms complete with bright red barns and black and white Holsteins in the barnyard. Now the slumping rural economy and the supersizing of farms — concentrated animal feeding operations — have devastated those small family-owned farms.

A recent Federal Reserve Bank report shows farm bankruptcies are on the rise in the Midwest and west-central Wisconsin, according to a story by the Leader-Telegram’s Eric Lindquist. Large milk price fluctuations put farmers’ lives on a roller coaster ride, and many have decided it’s time to get off.

Buffalo County farmer Eric Mikelson, who filed for reorganization under Chapter 12 bankruptcy, told Lindquist he’s not optimistic about his future.

“With these prices, I’m not going to make it,” he said.

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THUMBS UP: We all need to have goals so we can push ourselves to a higher level. Eau Claire native Jeff Dohlby takes it to extremes.

The Memorial High School graduate this year completed the final leg of the 1,000-mile-plus Ice Age Trail, becoming the 185th hiker to do so, according to a story by the Leader-Telegram’s Liam Marlaire.

Dohlby, who now lives in Pewaukee, took 13 years to complete the trek. His wife, Shelly, and young son Ben accompanied Dohlby on portions of the trail.

“Personal challenges included just keeping the mental drive to keep going because of hilly terrain, flies and mosquitoes, blisters, heavy backpacks, crying kids or just temperamental mood swings by any of us,” Dohlby said.

— Gary Johnson, editor