Through snow, storm and errant line, the Together Tree, the Christmas tree designated for display at the Alaska Governor’s Mansion, arrived in Juneau over the weekend.
Originally intended to arrive last week, mechanical issues from a fouled propeller delayed its debarkation in Juneau until Monday morning.
Harvested by the U.S. Forest Service in Wrangell and transported by the U.S. Coast Guard to Juneau, its presence is the product of the labor of many groups and people, said Erica Keene, a Forest Service public affairs specialist.
“The ceremony in Wrangell was pretty cool, it was pretty cool to be part of that,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Garrett Kravitz, captain of the USCGC Elderberry, the Coast Guard buoy tender which transported the shore pine. “After the ceremony, the people of Wrangell brought it down and loaded it up.”
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As the Elderberry set sail with the tree lashed safely to the deck, its propeller became entangled in a length of line, overheating the ship’s diesels, delaying the tree’s journey north while the crew freed the prop, Kravitz said, pushing the tree’s arrival about five days closer to Christmas.
Each year, the community that provides the tree rotates, said the Forest Service’s Wrangell district ranger Clint Kolarich in a phone interview. Ketchikan was initially slated to provide the tree, but with a new Forest Service ranger in the Ketchikan district with a lot on their plate, the arrangement was reshuffled. Schoolchildren in Ketchikan made ornaments with thin-cut slices of an alder tree for the Together Tree, Kolarich said.
“Wrangell folks took care of the tree, and Ketchikan folks worked with Ketchikan schools to provide the ornaments,” Kolarich said. “It takes a village. The ranger does very little — the district staff does all the work. Our vegetation management — our timber folks — have obviously a really good knowledge of our district and vegetation. I turn it over to them to locate the perfect tree. There’s about four of them that are scouting out, locating the perfect tree.”
After being identified, the sustainably grown, young-growth shore pine was brought to the Chief Shakes Tribal House for a ceremony by the Wrangell Cooperative Association, the local tribal organization, before being loaded aboard the Elderberry, Kolarich said. Four out of five of the last Together Trees have been transported by the Coast Guard, Keene said.
“The cool thing about the tree is that it’s brought a lot of communities together,” Keene said in an interview. “The tree comes from Wrangell, the ornaments come from Ketchikan, there’s multiple federal agencies involved.”
Once the crew of eight of the 67-year-old Elderberry got the tree safely to Juneau, state employees picked it up and conveyed it to the governor’s mansion.
When the Elderberry suffered its initial engine problem, Keene said, the Forest Service had looked at using the Alaska Marine Highway System to transport the tree, but ultimately went with the Coast Guard.
“We can thank the harbormaster and city of Wrangell for allowing the cutter to moor overnight and use the dock facilities,” Kolarich said. “I think the fact that we did it across islands with a couple communities is really cool. And I think having the schools involved is awesome.”