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Minnesota Christmas tree's journey to U.S. Capitol takes shape

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Sure, it might hit 70 degrees Friday. What better time to plan for Christmas?

If your task is to move an 88-foot-tall spruce tree nearly 2,000 miles on a strict schedule – inspiring Americans in dozens of towns along the way – you'd better plan ahead.

Rest assured that the folks in charge of the 2014 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree are doing just that.

They're preparing for next Wednesday, when the big white spruce will come down under the saw of Minnesota's 2014 Logger of the Year, Jim Scheff of Marcell.

From the forest, the tree will head to Bemidji State University. That's where it'll meet the caretakers who will wrap the tree and prepare it for its journey.

The tree and its handlers will form a cross-country caravan that will visit more than 30 communities before they arrive at the Capitol.

Even the jaded denizens of Washington's beltway sound impressed by the tree's itinerary.

16 of those stops are in Minnesota, including the first one on Nov. 2 when the nation's Christmas tree will be at Itasca State Park. The Department of Natural Resources says the tree will be on display for two hours beginning at 11 a.m. Plans call for a horse-drawn wagon to bring the tree a drink of water taken from the source of the Mississippi River.

The truck that will be hauling the tree was built specifically for that purpose (though it will have other uses later). It was built at a Kenworth factory in Chillicothe, Ohio. The Chillicothe Gazette looked in on it during the two-day decorating process before it hits the road for Minnesota.

That's not the only decorating that's been going on. Along with the big tree, Minnesota is also providing Washington with 10,000 handmade ornaments to signify the land of 10,000 lakes.

Then there's Myra Kohls.

Myra (seen at right), who lives in Walker, is 91. She knitted a skirt for the Capitol tree and tells the Forest Service creating it is one of the proudest accomplishments of her life.

The ceremonies have been pulled together by Chippewa National Forest, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, and the group Choose Outdoors with help from a number of sponsors.

The Pilot-Independent of Walker reports 180 students and teachers from the Leech Lake Band plan to travel to Washington, D.C., to be on hand for the tree lighting ceremony in early December. The band's chairwoman tells the newspaper it will be an opportunity for the children to show pride in their heritage while learning about the nation's capital.

The cost of the five-day field trip for the group is estimated at $130,000. Raffles and fundraising events are underway on the reservation, but the band has also launched a website for donations.

1992 was the last time Minnesota provided the Capitol Christmas Tree and that one also came from the Chippewa National Forest. Most of the Leech Lake reservation is within the boundaries of the national forest.

The Star Tribune reports a blessing ceremony by band members will precede Wednesday's cutting of the tree, which is 88 years old and measures 30 inches in diameter.

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