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Itasca warmly greets Capitol Christmas Tree

Onlookers bid farewell to the Capitol Christmas Tree as it departs from the Lake Itasca Region Pioneer Farmers Show Grounds, the first stop in its 2,000-mile cross-country journey to Washington, D.C. (Shannon Geisen / Enterprise)1 / 3
Linda Norwood helps Jillian Neubauer, 9, of Park Rapids, stencil a tree ornament made of birch. Linda and her husband, Don, volunteer year ‘round at Itasca State Park. Norwood conceived of the ornament-making project. Using colorful paint, kids stamped a tree, snowflake or star onto their ornaments. (Shannon Geisen / Enterprise)2 / 3
Six-year-old Corbin Schiller of Park Rapids learns how to use a two-person saw with some friendly assistance from Stan Grossman (right) and Itasca State Park volunteer Dick Larson (in the foreground). Larson and fellow volunteer Don Norwood (not shown) organize similar log-sawing opportunities at the state park. “People of all ages do it,” said Larson. “We provide guidance. Children really enjoy it.” (Shannon Geisen / Enterprise)3 / 3

By SHANNON GEISEN

More than 500 people ventured to the Lake Itasca Region Pioneer Farmers Show Grounds on Sunday to meet and greet the 2014 Capitol Christmas Tree.

“The People’s Tree” will make more than 30 stops as it travels through local communities in Minnesota and the Midwest on its way to Washington, D.C.

Itasca was its first stop.

To kick off the event, the tree received a drink of water from the headwaters of the Mississippi. A horse-drawn wagon transported the water to the 88-foot white spruce that was cut from Chippewa National Forest.

The Chippewa National Forest was the first national forest established east of the Mississippi. Its 700,000 acres harbors nesting habitat for the largest breeding population of bald eagles in the lower 48 states.

Visitors at Sunday’s event took their picture near the tree and signed a banner that drapes the caravan.

Other activities included wagon rides, face painting, ornament making, lunch, log-sawing and a historical presentation by “Lars the Logger,” who shared the history and illustrious jobs of a traditional 1890s logging camp.

The U.S. Forest Service, in partnership with Choose Outdoors and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, is bringing the special holiday tree from Minnesota to Washington.

Other stops along the journey to the Capitol include Grand Rapids, Duluth, Rochester, Milwaukee, Cleveland and the Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

The Capitol Christmas Tree has been a tradition since 1964 when then-Speaker of the U.S. House John McCormack placed a live Christmas tree on the Capitol lawn. It lived three years before succumbing to wind and root damage.

In 1970, the U.S. Forest Service provided a Christmas tree. Since then, a different national forest has been chosen each year to provide the tree.

The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree will be lit by Speaker of the House Johan Boehner during a Dec. 2 ceremony on the Capitol’s West Front Lawn, beginning at 5 p.m. The tree-lighting ceremony will be broadcast on C-SPAN.

The tree will be lit from nightfall until 11 p.m. each evening through Jan. 1, 2015.

“It’s a major point of pride for Minnesota that this year’s Capitol Christmas Tree comes from the Chippewa National Forest,” said U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar in a news release.

“This massive spruce is a shining example of the extraordinary natural beauty our state has to offer, and I’m excited to see it light up our nation’s capital this holiday season for the entire country to see.”

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