Long road to Christmas starts near Meeker

Fun family activities to be offered for visit

The 73-foot Capitol Christmas tree was cut down Nov. 2 in the Blanco Ranger District of the White River National Forest, near Meeker. It is traveling more than 5,000 miles to Washington, D.C., where it will be decorated and lit in early December. Enlarge photo

Courtesy of U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree team

The 73-foot Capitol Christmas tree was cut down Nov. 2 in the Blanco Ranger District of the White River National Forest, near Meeker. It is traveling more than 5,000 miles to Washington, D.C., where it will be decorated and lit in early December.

Durango usually waits until the end of November to kick off the holidays, but this year, a special guest is bringing Santa and Mrs. Claus to town early.

A majestic 73-foot Colorado Engelmann spruce, destined for the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol, will stop Friday in Durango as it travels across the country.

“This is a unique and festive opportunity for our community to be part of a gift to the nation,” Mayor Doug Lyon said. “We are proud to have the Colorado tree transported by our very own former U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell.”

Campbell also drove the custom Mack Pinnacle truck carrying the U.S. Capitol Christmas tree in 2000.

“It only comes back to the Forest Service within the borders of any state once every 10 or 12 years,” Campbell said. “When they called, I said I wasn't going to miss this, I'll carve out some time. I'm going.”

The truck he's driving on his 5,000-mile, 23-day journey across the country is special in a number of ways, including its environmental consciousness.

“The truck he's driving this year is very different than the one he drove 12 years ago, especially when it comes to emissions,” said John Walsh, the vice president of marketing for Mack Trucks. “We've invested very heavily over the last 10 or 12 years to get those down near zero, to the point now where, in some parts of the country today, the air coming out of the truck is actually cleaner than the air coming in.”

The tree was cut in the White River National Forest in northwestern Colorado on Nov. 2. Since it was packed on the truck in Meeker, Campbell has driven it to Rangely, Craig, Steamboat Springs, Dillon and Glenwood Springs. After stops in Grand Junction and Montrose today, the tree will stop from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Friday at the Walmart parking lot in Cortez before its grand arrival Friday evening in Durango.

The Campbell family is involved in other ways as well. Campbell's wife, Linda, recruited Ignacio author and musician Chris Vandeleur, who will sign and present a multimedia presentation of his new book, The Mighty Tree at Sorrel Sky Gallery.

The Campbells' daughter, Shanan Campbell Wells, owns the gallery, which will host a new addition to the Capitol Christmas Tree tour, an art exhibit. The exhibit features 48 pieces selected from submissions from 100 artists in 12 states. Grand Prize winner Cheryl St. John, like the tree itself, is a Colorado native.

As the entourage leaves Durango, stopping in Pagosa Springs early Saturday morning, it will leave something behind as a remembrance of the occasion. The Capitol Christmas Tree 2012 team will present a much smaller live Englemann spruce tree from the White River National Forest to local dignitaries.

The tree is scheduled to arrive in Washington, D.C., shortly after Thanksgiving, where it will be unwrapped, erected and decorated with 5,000 Christmas ornaments on the theme “Celebrating Our Great Outdoors” handmade by Colorado youngsters aged 5 to 19. Speaker of the House John Boehner and 17-year-old Ryan Shuster from Colorado Springs will light it in early December.

The Capitol Christmas Tree tradition is a relatively new one. It began in 1964, but it wasn't until 1970 that various national forests were asked to provide the tree. This is only the third time that a national forest in Colorado has been tapped for the honor. In 1990, the Routt National Forest near Steamboat Springs provided the tree, and, in 2000, the Pike National Forest near Colorado Springs had the privilege.

abutler@durangoherald.com

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