Capitol Christmas tree pauses on its journey

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter

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Jeff Reynolds and his family were among the hundreds of people who gathered in downtown Vancouver on Saturday for a glimpse of the Washington tree destined to be the Capitol Christmas tree in the other Washington — D.C. — on the other side of the country.

The 88-foot-tall Englemann spruce was featured at the Capitol Christmas Tree event in Heritage Square in downtown Vancouver. Kids also had a chance to meet Smokey Bear, visit with Santa and his elves, make a Christmas ornament out of a pine cone and send Christmas cards for active members of military. Families chatted with rangers from the Colville National Forest, where the tree was grown, about the tree and recreational opportunities. The event was sponsored by the Vancouver Rotary Foundation Festival of Trees, the city of Vancouver and the Vancouver USA Regional Tourism Office.

Reynolds, a senior master sergeant in the Air Force, works in munitions at the Portland Air Guard Base, nicknamed "Portland Ammo." He had just signed his name and "Portland Ammo" on a banner that stretched along the enormous trailer transporting the tree.

He brought his wife, Becky Reynolds, and children, Colton Harris, 11, and Ashlynn Harris, 8.

"It's a unique opportunity to see the tree destined for the Capitol," Jeff Reynolds said.

The banner bore the names and towns of people around the state who have attended similar events to see the tree on its journey.

Craft table

"Let's go decorate pine cones!" said Ashlynn before the family headed toward the craft table.

Jeff and Tida Reveley and their daughter, Cala Reveley, 2, stood near the trailer. They live in Virginia, but are visiting friends.

"Our friends heard about the tree, so we came to see it," Jeff Reveley said.

Three generations of the Smith family stood near the craft table.

"Mom's visiting from Chicago," Bryan Smith said. "She likes this kind of thing, so we came down to see the tree."

"It's exciting," Jacqueline Smith, his mother, nodded.

Bryan's wife, Rachel Smith, supervised Caleb Smith, 4, and Nate Smith, 2. In one hand, Nate clutched a pine cone ornament he'd covered with glitter.

Wielding a red marker, Zion Navarrette, 5, drew an elaborate Christmas message for a soldier while his mother, Becky Navarrette, watched. They live in Portland, but had been visiting family in downtown Vancouver. They'd stopped at the Starbucks across the street from Heritage Square when they noticed the crowd gathered.

"He wanted to come see what was happening here," Navarrette said. "I'm glad we did."

Her family has "tons of family in the Navy, Army and Marines," she said. "One of my cousins in the Army has been three times to Afghanistan and Iraq, and he's come back safe three times," Navarrette said. "Except for a broken foot from jumping out of a plane."

At the beginning of the event, Santa arrived in the Beaches bus with seven elves from the Rotary Interact Club at Columbia River High School. The elves helped keep order in the long line of children waiting for a chance to sit on Santa's lap and tell him what they wanted for Christmas.

A bus-load of seniors from Bridgewood at Four Seasons Retirement & Assisted Living were among the oldest to enjoy the festivities. The crowd to see the Christmas tree was so large that the trailer extended its visit by another hour so that everyone could see the tree and sign the banner.

Gayne Sears, district ranger for the Colville National Forest, said the tree grew near the middle branch of Kalispell Creek, in Pend Oreille County in the northeast corner of the state. "It took a 10-person crew, working three 12-hour days, to wrap and pack the tree," Sears said.

Vancouver was the tree's eighth stop in Washington state. It's next destination is Kennewick as it continues its 4,000-mile journey, stopping in 15 other cities across the nation before it reaches the nation's capital on Nov. 25.