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RANGELY I After Meeker’s town-wide celebration of the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree harvest from White River National Forest last weekend, the tree began its 23-day journey to its final destination Tuesday morning.
Rangely was the first of 27 stops the tree will make along its route as it tours 15 Colorado communities and nine more states before arriving at Andrews Air Force Base on Nov. 24. There it will be prepped for placement on the U.S. Capitol Building’s west lawn on Nov. 26.
On Friday morning, a 220-foot crane cut the Engelmann spruce and removed it from the Flattops Scenic Byway. It took two days for a team to “wrap” or pack the 73-foot tree into an 80-foot Mack trailer built specially for that purpose. They finished around 1 a.m. Tuesday, after approximately 1,000 wires, hefty wood supports, brackets holding the trunk, and a giant rubber bladder for watering the tree were in place, logistics coordinator Natasha Goedert said.
“The guys did a great job. This crew worked around the clock,” Goedert said. “When (the tree) was in the trailer, the trailer looked like a little Tonka truck.”
Goedert will travel cross-country with the tree in a convoy of approximately 10 vehicles.
“I’m kind of looking at it as a big adventure,” she said. “I’m not really sure what to expect. Some towns are having huge events, other towns might be smaller. It was nice to start by going from Meeker to Rangely.”
As the event began Tuesday morning, Rio Blanco District Ranger and project coordinator Ken Coffin presented a basket of gifts from across Colorado to Rangely town council member Elaine Urie.
“I really want to thank Rangely,” Coffin said. “The kids did a really great job of putting out ornaments. We got a lot of ornaments and enthusiasm, so we just want to thank you for that.”
Urie said, “What a blessing it is to have one of our trees from God’s country, the Rocky Mountains, to go to Washington, D.C., to represent … Rio Blanco County and the whole state of Colorado.”
Approximately 500 people turned out at the event hosted by the Rangely Area Chamber of Commerce at the Kevin Poole Memorial Field parking lot. Lomell and Julius Poole provided refreshments during the two-hour gathering.
Children from Parkview Elementary School and Rangely Junior/Senior High School arrived soon after it began, crowding around the semi for class pictures, signing their names on the trailer-wide banner, and chatting with Santa and Mrs. Claus.
“I thought (the tree) was awesome,” fourth-grader Philip Noyes said. “It was big. Really big.”
Parkview principal Mike Kruger was pleased that Rangely was a stop on the map.
“I’m really glad they took the time to come over to this side,” Kruger said. “It would’ve been a lot easier to go right down to Highway 13, but the fact that they’re taking the time to come west to Rangely and circle back to Craig and Steamboat, that’s just awesome.”
Chamber director Brooke Lohse said that the event was right for the time of day and who was likely to attend.
“It was very laid back,” Lohse said. “We decided that since it was only two hours on a Tuesday morning, the target audience would be the elementary school kids who did so many of the ornaments for the tree. That’s also why we chose the location we did.”
After stopping in Craig and Steamboat Springs Tuesday, the tree will move on to Dillon and Glenwood Springs on Wednesday. It will leave Colorado on Nov. 13.
Former U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, who drove the U.S. Capitol Tree to Washington, D.C., when it last came from Colorado in 2000, is doing it again this year. He said the journey is memorable but can throw its share of curveballs, like having to wedge the trailer into spaces not intended for semis.
“We ran over a hedge a time or two,” Nighthorse Campbell said. “But it’s a tremendous experience. I’ll tell you one thing to expect is the unexpected.”