Idaho has kicked off the Christmas season a little early this year.
That’s because we’re providing the nation’s largest decoration: An 80-foot Engelmann spruce tree from the Payette National Forest.
The 84-year-old, 16,500-pound tree is rolling around Idaho on an enclosed flatbed truck, with 10 more stops in Idaho before it heads east to stand outside the U.S. Capitol. It arrived in Boise Sunday, and headed to Weiser Monday afternoon.
An 80-gallon bladder is attached to the base of the tree to keep it looking fresh. It sucked up 20 gallons on Sunday, one of its caretakers said.
A Boise High School choir sang “O Christmas Tree” and other carols on the state Capitol steps Monday afternoon, as Gov. Butch Otter, other dignitaries and a couple of hundred onlookers celebrated Idaho’s gift to the nation.
“The first lady and I are extremely proud of the state, extremely proud of the schoolchildren that have also participated in putting together the nation’s family Christmas tree,” Otter said.
Idaho State Police Trooper Brandalyn Crapo was part of the police escort for the tree Sunday, when a vehicle collided with her cruiser on Idaho 55 north of Banks. She suffered minor injuries and has since been released from a Boise hospital.
“Fortunately, she came out far better than the vehicle did,” Sen. Mike Crapo told the crowd Monday, acknowledging the trooper is part of his extended family.
One of the biggest cheers from the crowd was for a steel sculpture made by a dozen students with Centennial Job Corps in Nampa. Kris Johnson, a welding instructor, told the Statesman the students worked for about three months on the sculpture, based on the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree logo created by artist Ward Hooper.
Idahoans of all ages — from toddlers to 90-year-olds — made 18,000 ornaments for the large tree and about 70 companion trees that will adorn offices around the District of Columbia, said Pattie Soucek, the Payette National Forest planner who was tasked with making sure all the ornaments were done by Oct. 1.
That’s about 8,000 more than the minimum needed for the trees, said Soucek, who was delighted to see the state get behind the holiday project.
“I would come to my office, and there would be 10 boxes of ornaments,” she said.
Made from recycled cans, bottles and other items, the decorations included the Idaho state fish (cutthroat trout), flower (syringa), fruit (huckleberry), bird (mountain bluebird) and horse (Appaloosa). About 20 pounds of glitter will make sure they sparkle.
Forest officials had considered transporting the ornaments in the Big Idaho Potato Truck that’s traveling with the tree. But they decided instead to pack them and load them on a separate truck, said Brian Harris, a spokesman for the Payette National Forest. Ornaments that are picked up at stops along the way may be stored in the giant potato, he said.
The holiday project cost about $600,000, money that was raised from private donors through the Colorado-based nonprofit Choose Outdoors. This is the sixth year that the Forest Service has partnered with the nonprofit.
The tree will be set up on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol. Boise fifth-grader Isabella Gerard will help light it on Dec. 6.
2016 Capitol Christmas tree ornaments, by the numbers
These are just some, not all, of the supplies that went into the 18,000-plus ornaments.
Glitter: 20 pounds
Glue: 2 gallons
Googly eyes: 3,000
Gallon milk jugs: 700
McDonald milk jugs: 700
Water bottles: 1,180
Aluminum cans: 7,000
Paper clips: 2,800
Pine cones: 500
Pipe cleaners: 2,000
Plastic picnic plates: 1,000
Popsicle sticks: 15,000
Ribbon: 18,000 feet
Wire: 8,000 feet
Source: Payette National Forest