Despite freezing temperatures, several hundred people turned out at Lincoln Park in Greeley on Monday morning to catch a glimpse of the Christmas tree that will soon sit in front of the U.S. Capitol.
The tree, transported on a 105-foot semi truck, stopped in Greeley for a few hours as part of its 23-day journey to Washington, D.C. Greeley’s Kiwanis Red Shirt Band serenaded onlookers with the likes of “Up on the Rooftop” and “Jingle Bells” as they signed the banner that covers the Engelmann spruce, which was harvested in White River National Forest near Meeker.
“It’s awesome,” said 12-year-old Jacob Huntress of LaSalle, who was off from school for Veterans Day. “The decorations, the presents underneath ... I’m surprised how big the tree is.”
Jacob and many of his younger peers grabbed hot chocolate and lollipops and took photos alongside Miss Colorado, Smokey Bear, Mr. and Mrs. Claus, and the driver of the semi-truck, former U.S. Sen. Ben “Nighthorse” Campbell.
Following a short proclamation from Greeley Mayor Tom Norton, Campbell looked to Norton and Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway.
“There is a future for you after politics, if you get a (commercial) driver’s license and drive one of these,” Campbell joked.
Lynn Lockwood with White River National Forest said it has been a pleasure traveling with Campbell and the rest of the crew as they transport the 73-foot tree.
On the radio, Lockwood said, Campbell confirms he received a message by saying, “Tree copies.”
Lockwood, who lives in Meeker, said she got lucky when she was picked to travel with the tree, which headed to La Junta later on Monday and leaves Colorado for Albuquerque, N.M., today.
“It’s really fun to see what different communities do,” Lockwood said. “Each one has a different flavor.”
In Colorado, the tree has already stopped in Meeker, Rangely, Steamboat Springs, Glenwood Springs, Dillon, Grand Junction, Montrose, Cortez, Durango, Pagosa, Alamosa, Colorado Springs and Denver.
The Capitol Christmas tree is harvested from a different national forest each year, and always stops in cities on its way to Washington, D.C. The last Colorado tree came from Pike National Forest in 2000.
“It’s like the Olympic torch, sort of,” said Patricia Streeter of Windsor, who came to view the tree with her husband. “I’m glad it’s from Colorado.”
Because it will sit in front of the Capitol, this tree is called the people’s tree — part of the reason it makes so many stops on its journey to the East Coast, forest rangers said. It is different from the National Christmas Tree, which sits in front of the White House.
A second semi truck, a trailer and multiple vehicles accompany the tree on the road. The second truck holds thousands of handmade ornaments by Colorado’s youth.
Congressional delegates who come from communities where the tree stopped will also receive some of Greeley’s Rices Honey upon the tree’s arrival.
Pam and Bud McDonough brought their 4-year-old granddaughter, Savannah, to see the tree and sign their names on the banner.
Having just moved from Michigan to Greeley in June, the McDonoughs said they had never seen a tree from a national forest.
“What a welcome,” Bud said.