The 2014 Capitol Christmas Tree was given a rousing sendoff Monday morning during a two-hour stop at Walker City Park.
Shortly after 9:30 a.m., the Kenworth semi tractor-trailer rig carrying the 88-foot tall, 30-inch diameter white spruce arrived at the park’s parking lot with a motorcycle escort of 17 members of the Walker American Legion Post's Legion Riders.
After carefully turning off the highway, the driver skillfully backed the rig about a city block down to the site of the festivities.
On Oct. 29, the tree was harvested from a site deep in the Chippewa National Forest somewhere between Bena and Cass Lake. After being prepared for transport over the weekend, the Capitol Christmas Tree made its first stop Sunday at Itasca State Park, to take on water from the Mississippi River to keep it hydrated. The next stop was in Bemidji, then Northern Lights Casino outside of Walker for an overnight stay.
Mitch Bouchonville of the Chippewa National Forest welcomed the crowd of several hundred, thanking them for their patience during a slight delay while waiting for fresh batteries for the portable mike. He introduced the WHA High School Choir, under the direction of Suton Stewart, which sang the National Anthem, as the American Legion Post 134 Color Guard stood at attention.
After an honor song by the Onigum Drum Group, Walker Mayor Scott Bruns also thanked everyone for participating in this celebration of life and land that is northern Minnesota.
“When this magnificent tree is lit [Dec. 2 on the Capitol’s west front lawn], our amazing area will be recognized for its quality of life by millions of people!”
Bruns predicted that this year’s Festival of Lights Nov. 28 in Walker will be “even more festive, knowing one of our trees will be shining in Washington, D.C.”
Leech Lake Tribal Chairwoman Carri Jones thanked the CNF for its partnership with the Leech Lake Band and for starting the tree out on its journey with ceremonies that incorporated Native traditions.
“This shows the importance of partnerships between Leech Lake Band, the Chippewa National Forest and all the communities,” she stressed.
Jones also noted that Leech Lake is raising funds to send 150 students to Washington, D.C. for the tree-lighting ceremony.
“Merry Christmas,” CNF Forest Supervisor Darla Lenz greeted the crowd.
Lenz thanked all who were involved in planning for and harvesting the tree and other events, especially the sponsors. “The Chippewa National Forest could not have done this by itself!”
The Capitol Christmas Tree is about something bigger than just Christmas, she continued. “It’s about the natural resources, the traditions and the communities of northern Minnesota. About once every generation, the CNF is able to provide the Capitol Christmas Tree.”
This is the second time the Capitol Christmas Tree has come from “the Chip,” an honor that rotates among all national forests. The CNF’s first time was back in 1992.
During its 19-day, 30-plus stop cross-country trip to the nation’s capitol, the 88-year old white spruce will be protected by a wooden framework covered by heavy plastic, with the names and logos of various sponsors. Clear plastic windows allow spectators to get a peek at the garland-bedecked tree inside.
After its Walker visit, the tree headed for Cass Lake for a two-hour stop Monday afternoon at the Leech Lake Tribal Office.
To follow the route of the 2014 Capitol Christmas Tree, visit the website at www.capitolchristmastree.com