Published by Senator Jon Tester, December 6, 2017
(West Lawn, U.S. Capitol) - U.S. Senator Jon Tester kicked off the holiday season tonight alongside Bozeman sixth-grader Ridley Brandmayr as they lit the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree.
"When Senator Tester called my dad and told me, it didn't feel real. It took about five minutes for it to sink in," Brandmayr said. "But it definitely became real tonight and it was an experience I will never forget."
The 79-foot Engelmann Spruce traveled nearly 3,500 miles from Montana's Kootenai National Forest to grace the lawn of the U.S. Capitol building-making stops in 13 Montana cities along the way. As the senior Senator from the tree's home state, Tester was tasked with selecting the tree lighter and helping organize this year's celebration. He asked Ridley after the Bozeman sixth grader lost his right hand in a tragic accident earlier this year. Tester lost three fingers on his left hand in a similar accident when he was a kid.
"This tree has been growing in Montana for decades - enduring brutal fire seasons, and braving harsh winters. It's reached almost 80 feet tall, nourished by Montana's rich soil and sustained by clean mountain water." Tester said. "This tree is more than a symbol of the natural resources the Treasure State has to offer - it represents our shared history, intertwined with our outdoor heritage and our Montana values."
The event was co-hosted by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and also featured the other two members of Montana's Congressional delegation. On hand were dozens of folks who helped shepherd the tree from Montana to D.C.
"The selection and delivery of the Capitol Christmas tree from the Kootenai National Forest has been an extreme honor for the Forest Service and State
of Montana," said Sandi Mason, the Kootenai Forest's Capitol Christmas Tree project leader. "We have met a ton of fantastic people across this great
country of ours and this will be a journey that we will never forget. We are proud to display the tree, along with all of the ornaments and tree skirts
that were handmade by people from all over the State."
Others in attendance included Larry Spiekermeier of Whitewood Transportation, the man who drove the tree across nearly a dozen state over the course of a two-week journey. Spiekermeier is a two-time Montana Motor Carriers "driver of the year" who hails from Plains, Montana. He will celebrate a half century on the road next year.
The tree was decorated with nearly 3,000 handmade ornaments from folks across Big Sky country. It was flanked by a custom tree skirt quilted by Shawna Crawford of Lewistown and topped by a five-foot tall copper star commissioned by the Washington Companies of Missoula, fabricated by Split Mountain Metal of Belgrade, and lit by Western Montana Lighting of Missoula.
Since 1970, a different national forest has been chosen each year to provide the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree. The last tree to hail from Montana was a Subalpine Fir from the Bitterroot National Forest in 2008. The Kootenai National Forest also provided "The People's Tree" in 1989.
Watch a livestream of the event HERE.