LIBBY — The Engelmann spruce slated to become the second tree from the Kootenai National Forest to grace the lawn of the U.S. Capitol during the Christmas season survived a very busy fire season in the northwestern Montana forest.
On Wednesday, Nov. 8, a sawyer will carefully cut the 68- to-70-foot-tall tree, which will be placed on a specially constructed trailer for its 3,000-mile journey across the country. Someone yet to be selected from this neck of the woods will flip the switch in early December to officially light what many call “The People’s Tree.”
But there’s a lot of work and coordination that needs to occur before that can happen.
The Kootenai National Forest’s Capitol Christmas Tree project leader, Sandi Mason, said the thousands of ornaments from all parts of the state have to be carefully wrapped and boxed before the tree and the 60 to 70 companion trees are shipped East.
“We have well exceeded our goal of 8,000 ornaments,” Mason said. “Early last week, we were at 10,000 and we know we still have some coming in. There are quite a few boxes coming from Great Falls.”
Beyond that, there’s a lot of planning to do with the 19 communities that will host celebrations when the tree pulls into their town.
“All the communities like to get involved and do something special when the tree arrives,” Mason said. In Montana, the tree is scheduled to make stops in Eureka, Libby, Troy, Trout Creek, Thompson Falls, Missoula, Helena, Great Falls, Harlem, Glasgow and Glendive.
The tree is scheduled to arrive in Washington, D.C., on Monday, Nov. 27. The date for the actual lighting of the tree is determined by the Speaker of the House. The expectation is that the tree will be lit either Tuesday or Wednesday, Dec. 5 or 6.
Montana’s senior senator, Jon Tester, will select someone from the area to flip the switch. That decision hasn’t yet been made.
Eight young photographers from high schools in Libby, Eureka, Troy and Noxon will be selected to receive free airline tickets donated by Alaska Airlines to witness the event. The schools are hosting photography contests to pick the winners.
The Rocky Mountain School of Photography is holding its own statewide contest, looking for the photo that best depicts Montana’s wealth of national forest lands. Mason said the winner of that contest also will receive a free airline ticket.
“We are at the point that we’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Mason said. “There is still a lot to do, but it seems to be coming together well.”