Christmas came very early to Pocahontas County with the National Christmas Tree – the “People’s Tree” making two stops Monday on its way to Washington, D.C.
The 63-foot Norway Spruce, hauled on a tractor trailer, made its first appearance Monday morning at Green Bank Elementary-Middle School where students and community members got a sneak peek at the tree through the see-through sides of the trailer.
The tree made its way to Marlinton Monday evening, where it was featured in a parade, led by bicyclists of all ages, through Main Street to Mitchell Chevrolet. News of the tree’s arrival was known all the way to the North Pole, prompting Santa and Mrs. Claus to join in the festivities, riding through the parade and visiting with the youngsters and not so youngsters.
Once the truck was parked, the large crowd gathered to see the tree and sign their names on the large banner on the side of the truck.
The lot at Mitchell Chevrolet was transformed into a mini Christmas village – minus the snow – with music performed by Mike and Mary Sue Burns and Trevor Hammons and activity stations offering treats and crafts.
Those with a sweet tooth could get a caramel apple, decorate their own sugar cookie and sip hot cocoa, then head over to the ornament and Christmas card making stations.
Among those traveling with the tree on its long journey to Washington, D.C. is the tree’s official storyteller, James Edward Mills, of Madison, Wisconsin.
This is ninth national Christmas tree Mills has traveled with and he said he came by the job because he is friends with Choose Outdoors founder Bruce Ward. Choose Outdoors is the non-profit partner of the U.S. Forest Service that organizes the delivery of the National Christmas tree each year.
“Primarily, I populate our Facebook and Instagram pages with photographs and also with a little bit of interpretation with regard to what the Capitol Christmas tree is about,” he said. “Not very many people know or understand that it is a non-funded federal mandate, meaning that no taxpayer dollars go into this enterprise.
“It’s important that people understand that it is done through everything from corporate donations to non-profit organizations and a variety of other forms of financial propriety that makes this possible,” he added.
Mills will travel with the tree all the way to Washington, D.C., making stops in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
How long will he be with the tree?
“From the moment it is harvested to the moment it is put in the ground in Washington,” he said.
Also traveling with the tree for the entire journey is U.S. Forest Service Natural Resource Specialist Julie Fosbender, of Elkins.
The very top of the tree and a “cookie,” or slice of the trunk, were on display at the forest service table Monday.
“They didn’t feel like [the top] would be strong enough,” Fosbender said. “This was taken off the stump, so we were able to tell how old it is by counting the rings – thirty-eight years. It’s kind of like we have the bottom and the top and everything in between is on the trailer.”
As for tracking the tree, Fosbender explained that the trailer has a GPS tracker on it and people can log on to chooseoutdoors.com to see the journey it will take.
“The other cool thing that is totally awesome is there’s a GPS tracker on the trailer so you can watch it travel,” she said. “When we came through Bartow this morning, there were people on the side of the road because they knew it was coming through.”
The Forest Service has been preparing for the Christmas tree’s journey for months. From the Marlinton office, Amy Coleman Lovell has been the education specialist and has worked with students to make ornaments and educate them about the forest service in general.
“We’ve been going in and doing presentations about the Forest Service, about the project and making ornaments with the children,” she said. “We started in March or April and we focus on the ten counties where we have national forest. We reached more than 20,000 people this year.”
Lovell explained that 14,000 large ornaments from all over the state were submitted to be on the tree and 1,800 of those are on the main tree. The others, as well as the school children’s ornaments will be on the other Christmas trees in D.C.
“We have what are called companion trees that go in the USDA building, the Forest Service building and the Congressional offices and a lot of those smaller ornaments will decorate those trees,” she said. “These [already on the tree] had to be weather proofed.”
The Forest Service also had several wooden tree replicas where visitors could answer the question “What do you love about West Virginia forests and public lands.” Answers were written on a leaf and placed on the wooden trees.
“Those were made by Harper’s Ferry Job Corp,” Lovell said. “I think after the tour, we’ll display them all together, probably in our supervisor’s office in Elkins.”
The 2023 “People’s Tree” was harvested at the Laurel Fork Campground in Randolph County and will make several more stops in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania before it arrives in Washington, D.C. November 17.