In a year like this one, it was only to be expected that those involved with getting this year’s U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree from western Colorado to Washington would face yet one more complication when it came to the question of when to cut it down.
Organizers ending up moving the planned cutting date up a day, holding the ceremonial removal from the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests on Thursday rather than Friday because of the stormy weather in the forecast.
“It’s going to feel a lot more like Christmas (Friday) when the wind and snow comes in,” GMUG Supervisor Chad Stewart said during Thursday’s event as he explained the schedule change.
Thursday’s removal of an 55-foot-tall Engelmann spruce more than 80 years old from the national forest southwest of Montrose occurred without a hitch under blue skies and little wind.
Many of those who spoke before the tree’s cutting alluded to the unique year in which it will be presiding at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington.
Dana Gardunio, district ranger for the Ouray Ranger District, said that Christmas is a time to come together, adding that “2020 has been one of the most challenging years many of us have experienced, so for me there’s no better time than now to have the opportunity to spread holiday joy and share the spirit of coming together here in Colorado with the rest of the nation.”
Jodi Massey with Choose Outdoors, a nonprofit that partnered in organizing this year’s tree project, said that “with so much uncertainty we actually wondered, could we even make this thing happen this year. And someone in our team calls said, ‘you can’t cancel Christmas,’ and that sort of set the tone for us the rest of the year. We tried to get really creative about coming up with ways to still make this happen,” she said.
She said everyone agreed that “in a year like any other, it’s more important than ever to create opportunities to bring us together around hope and joy.”
The pandemic resulted in a Capitol representative picking the tree virtually from a selection of candidate trees based on photos and video taken by GMUG officials, rather than based on an in-person visit as occurs in other years. Another pandemic concession was that the cutting ceremony couldn’t be open to the public. But people were able to watch it being livestreamed by the Forest Service on GMUG’s Facebook page.
Schoolchildren, artists and others also have created nearly 10,000 Colorado-themed ornaments that will decorate the Capitol tree and smaller companion trees that will decorate other buildings in Washington. And there will be opportunities to see the tree in area communities before it is trucked to Washington for a lighting ceremony outside the Capitol.
The annual Capitol tree has been selected over the years from Forest Service locations all over the country. The GMUG has the honor of providing it in the 50th year the agency has supplied the tree.
Participants at Thursday’s ceremony also noted the particularly divisive political year during which the GMUG tree is headed to the nation’s political capital. Stewart said he thinks the tree can be viewed as a symbol of unity and hope.
“After this election I think we could all use a little more unity and hope,” he said.
Said Montrose County Commissioner Keith Caddy, “I hope this tree in some small way will bring some unity to the people of this country, especially in Washington where things are all hectic and hateful and everybody there is just not getting along.”
He voiced the wish that people in the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives and White House might gather around the tree “and join in peace and harmony just for a few minutes, and I hope that’s what we can give to people in Washington.”
Seasoned Colorado loggers Perry Brandt and Harvey Gray sawed through the tree in just minutes, after which it remained suspended by a crane before being placed onto a truck trailer.
Brandt told those at the ceremony that it was a “real honor” for the two men who spent their entire careers working in the forestry industry to play a role in the Capitol tree project.
“I just can’t thank God enough for this special day that we have out here to cut the national Christmas tree,” he said.