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How a Clinton County spruce became this year's state Christmas tree | Messages from the Mitten

the state Christmas tree at night lit up in silver and gold lights in front of the State Capitol building. There's a glowing star topper.
Sophia Saliby
The tree stays lit after the annual Silver Bells in the City celebration in Lansing.

The state Christmas tree is a decades-long tradition in Michigan. More often than not, an evergreen from the Upper Peninsula is selected to be displayed in front of the state Capitol during the holiday season.

But for the first time, this year’s tree was cut down from Clinton County.

While the tree gets its official debut every November at Lansing’s Silver Bells in the City celebration, the annual evergreen search begins much earlier in the year. The Michigan Department of Technology, Management & Budget puts out a call for nominations throughout the summer.

Heath Miller is part of a two-person team that visits each tree nominated to determine whether it would make a good candidate to come down to the Capitol. They also do some scouting of their own.

"Most of the time, and I would say 98 to 99-percent of the trees that are harvested are ones that we have basically been driving to other nominated trees," he said.

That includes this year’s tree, which Miller has a local connection to.

"I'm actually from St. Johns, so this is my local community for me," Miller said. "So, this was a big deal. I have seen this tree about four years ago."

It was a little bit too short at the time, but the owner of the downtown St. Johns property that the tree sits on had a reason to push for it to be chosen this year. The 63-foot spruce was towering over Mary Ann Beck's two-story building of rental units and crowding into the narrow driveway on the side of the house.

Consumers Energy had also reached out to Beck saying the tree needed to come down.

"It was so close to the house that it was impeding in the foundation, and it was in all kinds of power lines and cable lines," Beck explained.

So, on a chill morning just before Halloween, hundreds gathered in front of the house to watch the tree be taken away. The St. Johns High School marching band played Pitbull’s Timber and then with some encouragement from local schoolchildren, one man took a chainsaw and an axe to the tree.

From our point of view, this was like a picture perfect harvest.
Heath Miller, Michigan Department of Technology, Management & Budget

Miller says it couldn’t have gone better.

"From our point of view, this was like a picture perfect harvest."

After it had been separated from its stump, crews used a crane to lift the tree into the air and over the Beck’s property to a nearby parking lot.

"It was up over top of the house, and then they're like, 'Oh, stop, so we can take a picture.' So, it's hanging over top of the house," Beck said. "And I'm like 'Okay, okay, take a picture. Let's go.'"

Melinda Motz was also at the event. Her family owned the property the tree sat on for about 20 years from the mid-1960s to the 1980s.

"We think that my grandfather actually planted it soon after they moved in because I just remember him fussing with that tree," she said.

She says this year isn’t the first time it’s been decorated for the holidays.

"Every year, you know, we put the lights on it, and you could see it from inside the house."

A Crane lifting a large spruce into the air and over a house
Sophia Saliby
A crane lifted the tree over the Beck's property and placed it on a truck bed.

Motz says she got emotional watching the tree leave the property, especially since her family goes to Silver Bells every year.

She says it was almost like it got “a kiss from heaven” as it was lifted into the sky before being brought back down.

"I just couldn't help but have that thought that, oh, you know, that it's going up to get blessed from my grandparents and my aunt and my mother, their two daughters," Motz said.

While the Becks don’t have the same kind of personal connection to the tree, Mary Ann’s daughter, Caitlin, says it's still overwhelming to be a part of the process.

"At this time, Clinton County got to represent Michigan at the Capitol which is super, super big, and it's an honor," she said.

"It's something we're going to hold very dear for a long time."

At this time, Clinton County got to represent Michigan at the Capitol which is super, super big, and it's an honor.
Caitlin Beck

At Silver Bells in the City in Lansing on a very cold and very snowy November night, the Becks were the ones to flip the switch to light up the tree for the first time.

Through the month of December, the tree will herald the holidays, lit with thousands of white and yellow lights and topped with a glowing star.

After Christmas, the tree will get broken down. Miller says sometimes the wood gets reused as lumber, made into decorative ornaments, or turned into paper.

The Becks have kept a round of wood from the tree they hope to turn into a table, while Motz was able to grab a pinecone from the property that she hopes to grow into a new spruce her family can enjoy.

Sophia Saliby is the local producer and host of All Things Considered, airing 4pm-7pm weekdays on 90.5 FM WKAR.
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