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SWEET HOME — 1,100 Christmas ornaments down, only 8,900 to go.

Sunday morning, parishioners at St. Helen’s Catholic Church did their best to add a few dozen more ornaments to the pile of those needed to decorate the Capitol Christmas Tree and 75 others in Washington, D.C., in December.

Sophia Sullens, 4, was mighty proud of her handiwork. She had crafted a star from wooden twigs, complete with polka-dot ribbon, white buttons and green and purple beads.

It was a family affair. Her mother, Marci, and aunt, Allie Gardner, helped glue the twigs into a variety of shapes. Her sisters, Amelia and Olivia, and cousins, Grace and Gavin Gardner, were busy with their own creations.

The goal, according to coordinator Nancy Ellis, was to make 75 ornaments.

It was another small step toward the 10,000 small and large ornaments needed to decorate the giant Capitol Tree — 60 to 85 feet tall — that will come from the Sweet Home Ranger District, and 75 smaller trees that will adorn government office buildings. 

This year’s theme is “Find Your Trail” in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the National Trails System Act and the 175th anniversary of the Oregon Trail.

It was announced in January that the Capitol Christmas Tree would come from the Sweet Home Ranger District of the Willamette National Forest. District Ranger Nikki Swanson said the project is coming along, but larger ornaments are needed.

“This started about two years ago,” she said. “We heard the Capitol Christmas Tree was probably going to come from Oregon or Washington Region and when I heard that, I knew I wanted it to come from the Sweet Home District.”

Swanson said she talked it over with the Willamette National Forest’s leadership team and they were excited about the project.

“My gosh, it’s fantastic. It has been so much fun watching how excited people are about this,” she said. “We had an ornament making party at the recent Ducks spring game and community members would walk by and say they wanted to help. It’s really neat that all of these ornaments will be handmade by the people of Oregon. It’s an amazing gift to the people of the United States.”

The tree must be located on the Sweet Home Ranger District and should be a Douglas fir or noble fir.

Swanson encourages people who think they've found the perfect tree to take a photograph of it and map it with a GPS unit. Depending on where the tree is located, there may be a public event coinciding with its falling, but logistics may make that difficult.

The person who finds the Capitol Tree will be flown to Washington, D.C. for the tree-lighting ceremony.

And, Swanson said, the Forest Service will be teaming with the Willamette Valley Visitors Association to encourage familiar to try out new trails in local forests. Those who find ornaments along the way will be eligible for prizes.

On Sunday morning, Wendy Melcher brought bundles of wooden branches for participants to clip into various sizes and upon which ornaments would be based. There also were mounds of craft items to place on the wooden frames once volunteers assembled them with glue guns, plus plenty of colorful yarn, glitter, buttons, ribbons and more.

The only directions were that the ornaments reflect Oregon’s cultural heritage, historical events or people, and natural resources.

Several ornament-making events have already taken place, starting Feb. 14, with the city’s annual Sweetheart Run, and the Oregon Ducks football spring game on April 21. Another is scheduled for Saturday at the Oakridge Tree Planting Festival.

Future events include a free fishing day on June 2, which begins at 10 a.m. at Timber-Linn Memorial Park in Albany, Detroit Lake, near the city of Detroit, and the Willamette Fish Hatchery in Oakridge; the Sweet Home Safety Fair on June 23; the Eugene Emeralds baseball game on July 25; the Sportsman’s Holiday on July 14; and the Oregon Jamboree, set for August 3-5.

Known as the “People’s Tree,” the Capitol Christmas tree dates back to 1964, when Speaker of the House John McCormack (D-MA) placed a live tree on the Capitol lawn. It lived three years before dying of wind and root damage. In 1970, the Capitol architect asked the U.S. Forest Service for a Christmas tree. Since then, a different national forest has provided a tree every year.

The last time a tree came from an Oregon forest was 2002. It was a Douglas fir from the Umpqua National Forest.

Suggested ornament themes include "Smokey Bear," "Home Sweet Home," the Willamette National Forest, coastal scenes; the Oregon Trail, Christmas, sports, the great outdoors, nature art, and recycling.

Families do not need to participate in an ornament-making event to donate one, but ornaments must be delivered no later than Oct. 1 to the Sweet Home Ranger District, 4431 Highway 20, Sweet Home, OR 97386.

Individuals and companies may also contribute financially to the cost of the project. Sponsorships range from $100 to be a Friend of the Tree, to $100,000 to be a Presenting Sponsor.

National forests in Oregon and Washington issue more than 56,000 Christmas tree permits annually.

The tree will leave Oregon in November and make numerous stops along the route to Washington, D.C. The public can follow its journey at www.capitolchristmastree.com.

Contact Linn County reporter Alex Paul at 541-812-6114.

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