Back in November, a 79-foot Engelmann Spruce from the Kootenai National Forest was cut down and hauled to Washington, D.C. to be the Capitol Christmas tree.
Now the tree — at least the log portions — will be hauled back to Montana and the wood will be used, in part, to rebuild Glacier National Park’s Sperry Chalet, which was gutted by the Sprague Fire last summer, leaving just the stone shell of the main dormitory.
It’s a multi-faceted effort by Montana Sen. Jon Tester, the nonprofit Choose Outdoors organization, F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber, SmartLam and the Washington Companies.
The tree was adorned with a 5-foot long, 90-pound copper star that came from Montana and was going to be returned to the state anyway, so for an additional and nominal fee, Choose Outdoors was able to secure having the logs from the Christmas tree returned as well, said Chuck Ward, president of the Colorado-based organization that lobbies to get youths away from cell phones and out in the woods.
Choose Outdoors has worked with the Forest Service for several years to have Christmas trees from the west shipped to the Capitol for Christmas trees, Ward noted.
The tree will likely begin its journey back to Columbia Falls sometime next week. Paul McKenzie, land a resource manager at Stoltze, said the company will cut in the tree into dimension lumber and then SmartLam will make a feature for the chalet.
“This wooden and stone landmark, built in Glacier’s rugged backcountry more than a century ago, is irreplaceable,” Tester wrote in a letter to the architect of the Capitol, requesting the tree be returned. “But efforts are underway to rebuild the Sperry Chalet, and I can think of no better use for some of the Montana lumber in our Capitol Christmas Tree to assist in that endeavor. I’d like to see this tree go home to Big Sky Country, where it can continue giving to the people to whom our public lands belong.”
Tester acknowledged the generosity of the corporate partners who are helping make this project possible. Additionally, Tester helped arrange the transport of the Montana-made copper star, which adorned the top of the tree, back to Montana Resources in Butte.
All of Montana’s Congressional delegation has supported rebuilding the chalet. The Glacier National Park Conservancy raised more than $100,000 shortly after the chalet was gutted to pay for stabilization of the chalet and is prepared to raise more when reconstruction begins.
Whether that happens this year remains to be seen. Park spokeswoman Lauren Alley said it’s too soon to say — the chalet has been stabilized — the stone structure is still standing — but there’s still a lot of winter left to go.
Ward said he’d also like to see portions of the tree that can’t be made into lumber used for other projects, like medallions for groups like the local Boy or Girl Scouts.