Back in the late fall of 2017, a 79-foot tall Engelmann spruce located in Upper Ford administrative site on the Three Rivers Ranger District in Troy was felled by sawyer Pete Tallmadge.
The tree was loaded up on a special trailer and then hauled to Washington, D.C., to the west front lawn of the capitol building.
After the holiday season, through the efforts of Sen. Jon Tester, the nonprofit Choose Outdoors organization, F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Co., SmartLam and the Washington Companies, the tree was hauled back to Montana.
It’s now sitting at the F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber mill in Columbia Falls, as its journey is not complete. Stoltze general manager Paul McKenzie said last week the tree is in storage, cut into 8-foot lengths, ready to be milled to specifications for the rebuilding of the Sperry Chalet when the time comes.
The government has not forgotten about the Christmas Tree. It’s written specifically into the chalet contract. To wit:
“Government Furnished Products: Use wood from 2017 National Christmas Tree as possible, in order listed below until material is expended: 1) Newel Posts 2) Guardrail” in construction of the interior stairs.
A newel post is the spindle used in between the rails of a stairway.
The use of the tree is an anomaly of the contract — the bulk of the contract calls for Douglas Fir to be used.
The Christmas tree is spruce. Fir is a stronger and heavier wood and has a dark blond color, especially when it ages. Spruce is white and light, but is still considered a structurally strong wood.
Contractors, in subsequent written questions to the Park Service asked if the wood could be used elsewhere. The answer yes, but the primary goal is to use it the stairs, as the plan calls for.
“Can we also maybe use for lamp shelfs if not enough wood is salvageable from tree? What are the shelves to be made of?” A contractor asked the Park Service of the Christmas tree during the contract vetting process online.
The answer was, “The interior railings are the primary use for the National Christmas tree. If wood remains, it may indeed be used for lamp shelves. Otherwise, furniture grade Douglas-fir to be used in the lamp shelves.”
The contract specifications are 290-pages long for phase II of the reconstruction and are extremely detailed — down to how wash water from cleaning the stone of soot should be disposed of.
There’s plenty of soot on the stonework, too. The chalet was gutted by the Sprague Creek Fire in August, 2017. Crews from Dick Anderson Construction of Helena completed Phase I of the project last summer, installing a new foundation, floors, a roof and a framework into the old masonry, which survived the fire.
Anderson was also granted the contract for Phase II.
The second phase is the finish work and includes rebuilding the existing masonry and completely finishing the chalet. It will take all summer to complete that work.
The goal is to have the chalet reopen for guests by the summer of 2020.