US Capitol tree taken down in northern Minnesota's Chippewa National Forest
By Jillian Gandsey / Forum News Service
CHIPPEWA NATIONAL FOREST, Minn. – Taking down a tree in logging country is nothing out of the ordinary.
But this is no ordinary tree.
On Wednesday, about 500 people traveled into the Chippewa National Forest to watch the cutting of the 2014 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree – a white spruce measured at 88 feet tall, weighing some 13,000 pounds. The tree, once prepped at Bemidji State University, will then take a 30-city, 2,000-mile tour as it makes its way to Washington, D.C., where it will be placed on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building.
Buses arrived early Wednesday at the site, located just more than 3 miles off the Lady Slipper Scenic Byway east of Bemidji on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation, for a tree-cutting set for noon.
The visitors, who included some 170 students from area schools, were properly dressed in their winter gear, enjoyed hot chocolate, coffee, cookies and a meal as they waited for the cut.
In a clearing, spectators sat in chairs around the day’s other important tree – a second white spruce that will be “de-limbed” so its branches can fill in the bare spots of the Capitol Christmas Tree.
“My vision for the Christmas tree was the tree would provide a means to engage with our youth, with our communities, with the Leech Lake Band, with all of our partners that could come together and help us deliver the tree,” Darla Lenz, Forest Supervisor of the Chippewa National Forest, said during opening remarks.
“The tree itself is a representation of all the wonderful natural resources that northern Minnesota has to offer, so in part that’s what the tree is a symbol of, the natural resources that we love.”
The tree, which was already held up by two colossal cranes, was blessed by Larry Aitken, a spiritual leader from the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and professor from Itasca Community College. Students from the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School performed a drum and dance ceremony.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., told the crowd the Minnesota tree will stack up well in Washington.
“We have seen trees at the Capitol, the white fir from California, the red spruce of Virginia, the Engelmann spruce of New Mexico and the subalpine of Montana, but I don’t really care as much about those other states as much as I care about our tree,” Klobuchar said. “It’s a little piece of Minnesota, or I should say a big piece of Minnesota, which is going to be blessing one of our nation’s most visited landmarks and we are literally going to let everyone know about how proud we are of Minnesota with this tree.”
Carri Jones, chairwoman of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, told the crowd the band was honored to provide the Capitol with the tree. She noted that a group of about 150 students and 30 to 40 elders will make the trip to Washington for the tree-lighting ceremony in late November and early December.
After the speeches, came the actual cutting of the tree.
Jim Scheff of Scheff Logging and Trucking in Marcell, Minn., and the Minnesota Logger of the Year, cut through the 30-inch diameter tree, held in place by the cranes. Once cut through, the tree was lowered slowly into position and placed on a specially made 100-foot trailer. Forest Service employees and students from Itasca Community College then readied the tree for the first stretch of its journey to Bemidji State, where it will be wrapped and prepped for its longer trek.
This is the second white spruce from the Chippewa National Forest to be placed on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building. The last tree taken was in 1992.
The ornaments for the tree come from Minnesota, and many of them were decorated in the Bemidji area. Also, local area residents have made other accessories for the tree, including tree skirts.
In addition to the two Chippewa National Forest trees, the Minnesota Tree Growers Association is providing 70 additional trees that will be placed in federal buildings around Washington.