How do you produce 10,000 handmade Christmas ornaments and transport a 60-foot tree across the United States just in time for the holidays? That’s the
question being posed to the folks at the Carson National Forest in northern New Mexico this year, and they’ve responded with a resounding, “With a
little help from our partners!”
Each year since 1970, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service has selected a different national forest to provide the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, or “People’s Tree,” to adorn the West Lawn of the Capitol Building. The chosen national forest is also charged with providing 70 smaller, companion trees and 10,000 hand-crafted ornaments. This year’s tree, a 68-year-old blue spruce, will come from the area around Red River, New Mexico, in the Carson National Forest.
Instrumental to the success of this colossal undertaking is the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps (RMYC), a service-based, not-for-profit organization that engages local youth in the outdoors and helps them gain critical life skills. As part of an ongoing agreement between the Forest Service and RMYC, a seven-member crew — composed primarily of local teens from Questa and Taos, New Mexico — spent the summer working on a variety of outdoor projects in the Carson National Forest’s Questa Ranger District. Between fencing, trail work and erosion control projects, the crew was busy decorating some of the 200 tree cookies — cross-section tree slices — that had been pre-cut by another RMYC crew earlier in the season.
The last day of their term was spent slapping a fresh coat of red paint on the panels that will form the housing for the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree as it makes its long journey from the Enchanted Circle in northern New Mexico, to Washington, D.C. “When you’re offered the opportunity to engage in something that’s going to be seen on a daily basis across the country…it means a little bit more,” said Brandon Washburn, crew leader and four-term RMYC participant.
The wooden panels, weathered and worn from the many cross-country treks that they’ve endured, were in desperate need of some TLC. The crew spent all day helping to dismantle, wash and paint the approximately 30 red panels, under threat of rain from an approaching storm system. As soon as the last panel was painted and all of the supplies were safely put away, as if on cue, the first raindrops started to fall.
At the RMYC graduation ceremony at the Civic Center in Taos, New Mexico, corps members from all over the state shared experiences and offered up valuable insights, the result of working on diverse conservation projects throughout the season. In addition to the great stories and life experiences, they gain valuable professional development skills, such as resume workshops, first aid/CPR certification and personal finance training, according to Benjamin Thomas, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps in New Mexico. “RMYC is excited to partner with the Forest [Service] on high-priority projects while working with local youth to provide them with stackable credentials, college credit and an education award that will lead to a healthy career path,” he said.
One thing is for sure, when they see that bright-red trailer headed down the highway on its way to the Capitol, that seven-member RMYC crew will feel a sense of pride that they were able to bring a little bit of warmth and holiday joy to the cold D.C. winter. To learn more about Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, visit: www.rockymountainyouthcorps.org.