Wrangell’s Christmas tree has come out of the forest and into its new home downtown.
Tuesday. Downtown Wrangell. 12 o’clock sharp. A fully grown man is shimmying up a massive Picea Sitchensis—that’s Sitka Spruce—in the middle of town.
Wrangell Municipal Light & Power Superintendent Clay Hammer explains:
“He is climbing up the tree to unhook the cable that we used to swing it and put it up there. Dwight is our tree monkey this time around…he’s the youngest,” says Hammer.
It’s big, it’s green, and it goes up a lonnnnng way.
“It’s about 45 feet tall. I don’t know how many stories that is. I know Petersburg’s is two stories tall. The Elks is at least two stories and it’s a lot taller than the Elks, so for bragging rights, I’m going to go with three,” says Hammer.
Now, we haven’t seen Petersburg’s ourselves, but word on the street agrees with Hammer that ours is bigger–an important detail to note.
And getting such a huge tree into town takes a lot of preparation and work.
First, you’ve got to find the right tree. In this case, the Forest Service gave permission to take a tree out the road.
“Basically we start canvassing the town in the early part of mid-October. We start looking for trees around town and if we don’t find any good candidates in town, we start branching out a little further,” says Hammer.
So they branched out, no pun intended, to about a quarter mile past the pavement end out the road.
And, as luck would have it, this coniferous giant came from the same stand as last year’s tree.
“It just happens that there’s a bunch of reprod there—some second-growth that’s coming back on a Forest Service timber sale years ago. And those trees in that area right now just happen to be ideal,” says Hammer.
And just how long ago did our mighty specimen first peek its first buds out of the ground?
“Actually I was counting the growth rings to find out how old it was and I counted 34 rings, so it’s about 34 years old,” says Hammer.
For three decades, this mighty spruce stood tall in the Tongass. And today, several people worked together to bring it to town.
Lineman Mark Armstrong explains the complicated process:
“Well, we had a new trailer this year. So we built some different stands for it. We had to take the line truck out there to lift it with. The Public Works provided a dump truck to haul the trailer. So, Stan Campbell hauled the tree in for us this year. Just cut it, pick it up, put it on the trailer and haul it in. We shout like crazy as we come down the highway to make sure nobody gets brushed off to the side.”
Clay Hammer agrees:
“We didn’t lose any branches along the way, so that’s a good thing. We didn’t wipe out any garbage cans or anything like that. With a big, wide tree like that you have to worry about that sometimes.”
So, despite the potential havoc Clay Hammer is describing, the tree made it to town. The Public Works guys winch it up—making sure the bottom is heavier than the top. The tree rights itself; they slide it into its stand and bolt it in place.
The last step? Again, Mark Armstrong:
“We’re trying to get it straight, but I think it’s going to be what it is. Looks like this year, our tree’s going to lean a little bit north, but we’ll do what we can.”
Now, the tree has to be decorated, covered in lights, and generally *cough* spruced up to get ready for the Tree Lighting ceremony on December 6th. But we’ll save that for another story.