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MEEKER I The harvest of the 2012 Capitol Christmas Tree drew hundreds of people to the two-day celebration in Meeker before beginning its journey to Washington, D.C.
“I never would have dreamed there would be this kind of turnout,” Blanco District Ranger Ken Coffin said of the large crowd gathered in downtown Meeker to see the tree, take pictures, sign the banner and enjoy the festivities Friday and Saturday last. “Everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves and we appreciate all the community support.”
The White River National Forest, the nation’s most visited national forest with more than 9 million visitors in 2011, was chosen to provide the tree, which will stand at the nation’s capitol. It will be lit by the Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner in early December, which is why it is known as “the people’s tree.”
Members of the Utes of the Uintah and Ouray Tribe, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe had some private time with the tree before it was harvested last Friday. Tribal elders and students have been involved with the Capitol Christmas Trees, making ornaments for the trees, presenting youth royalty at the celebration, along with drumming and dancing on the courthouse lawn.
“There is a sense of homecoming,” Gary Hayes, a retired Navy veteran and chairman of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, said after thanking the U.S. Forest Service and community of Meeker for their hospitality. “The tree represents water and mother earth and is special to us, we hope it brings to the people an understanding of unity. We live in the greatest country on Earth.”
Hayes mentioned Veteran’s Day and honoring those who protect our freedoms and was thankful for members of all three tribes coming together.
“We must honor and remember our past to strengthen our future,” Hayes said and he agreed with Meeker Mayor Mandi Etheridge that the relationship between the community of Meeker and the Ute Nations should continue to grow.”
“I feel a real sense of community right now,” Etheridge said after welcoming the large crowd and before introducing Hayes.
Several others spoke at the harvest and celebration, including U.S. Congressman Scott Tipton and Rio Blanco County commissioner chairman Shawn Bolton.
“We are surrounded by one of the most beautiful and vast forests in our nation—a truly inspiring sight,” Tipton said. “This tree, one of many that make our state one of the most scenic and beautiful places in the world, stood out and was chosen for our nation’s Capitol. It exemplifies Colorado’s rugged individualism; a spirit that has served our state well.”
“This is an opportunity to showcase our great outdoors,” commissioner Bolton said before the tree was harvested, mentioning the Flattops Scenic Byway, our vast amount of public land for hunting, fishing, snowmobiling and the newly designated Wagon Wheel OHV trail system.
“This is another page in the history of Rio Blanco County,” Bolton said of the honor of the Capitol Christmas Tree celebration. “If you like playing in the outdoors, Rio Blanco County is the place to come, we have it all.”
The Meeker Chamber of Commerce, always promoting the businesses and the area, was also involved in the celebration, organizing the street fair and the parade of lights, which featured more than 30 entries.
“I was impressed by the number of businesses that participated and all the community support,” Katelin Cook, director of the Meeker Chamber of Commerce said. “We’ve been working on this for 13 months and it was surreal to watch the tree be cut, then floating in the air.”
The Eastern Rio Blanco Metropolitan Recreation and Park District was also involved in the celebration, sponsoring many events downtown including the 5K walk/run, Santa Claus, a stilt walker and the “Seussical, Jr.” singers on the schedule of events.
Bruce Ward, founder of Choice Outdoors, the non-profit partner on the project was also pleased with the turnout, calling it the “magic of Meeker, an incredible community.” Choice Outdoors was responsible for bringing singer/songwriter Lindsay Lawler and artist Cheryl St. John (we apologize for using the wrong last name in last week’s article) to Meeker. Lawler wrote and performed “Standing Tall” before the parade of lights and St. John had her contest-winning painting “Awaiting Spring” displayed at the Meeker Hotel and Cafe.
The 2012 Capitol Christmas Tree, a 73-foot, 9,000-pound Engelmann Spruce began its journey to Washington, D.C., leaving Meeker at 7 a.m. Coffin said the caravan would make four stops on the first day, with the first being in Rangely.