In July, Nick Orsillo carefully studied a two-page list presented to him by the Grand Teton Association – fertilizing, road building, road clearing, cutting, hydroseeding, the list went on and on.
The association was asking whether Orsillo’s Jackson, Wyo.-based company, Wyoming Landscape Contractors, would donate a service to a selected tree in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. The tree needed to stay healthy through the summer and fall months in order to serve as the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree in December.
Reading through the list, Orsillo decided why not do it all.
“Nick wanted to make sure everything went without a problem,” said Janet Palermo, the company’s office manager. “He said, ‘Well, I have all of the equipment to do this, so I’ll do it all.’”
In August, the landscape company, which does everything from design/build to irrigation systems to snow removal to wholesale nursery, started the tree on a three-month watering, fertilization and pesticide program. One of the major concerns was that the tree was in the middle of wild land and therefore would be vulnerable if wildfires started. While treatment of the tree was done, clearing was done around it and a dirt road was built practically to the trunk.
“We have so many divisions within our company, we do everything from design all the way to maintenance, and, interestingly enough, each person got to be a part of the tree in some way,” Palermo said. “We got our fertilization department to take care of part of it. We had to build a road, we had to clear the road a little bit wider than it was because the tree was so wide and the cranes that they used were so wide, my heavy machinery division came in and helped with that. I had my freight line driver, because we actually had to ship in environmental mats that the crane and the truck sat on when the tree was removed. Each one of us was a part of every little bit.”
In September, Orsillo actually closed the office for the day, in the middle of the busy season, and took all of the employees – the company employs 70 in the summer months and currently has 32 employees – to visit the tree 45 minutes from the office so they understood the magnitude of the project. Not only the size, but the scope – it was the first time a tree from Wyoming was being donated as the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree.
On Nov. 6, with two cranes, and a semi-truck waiting, the tree was cut down. The Engelmann Spruce was 67-feet tall, had a crown width of 30 feet and weighed 9,000 pounds.
“The interesting thing is that tree got loaded on the back of a truck,” Palermo said. “It trucked all the way from its point at the Bridger-Teton National Forest all the way down to town for a town celebration. It took them almost four hours. They could go about 20 mph because the tree was unfurled. They had to drive so slow because they didn’t want any of the branches or needles to fall off by going fast. They had to shut down our major highway, which goes to our airport and goes north, because the tree was so wide it couldn’t fit down the road with a car coming the other direction.”
The tree was eventually put in a box and made 21 stops in Wyoming, 39 stops altogether throughout the country, before making it to Washington just after Thanksgiving. It was decorated with 9,000 handmade ornaments from the people of Wyoming and lit on Dec. 7.
“It was a wonderful opportunity,” Palermo said. “Hindsight is 20/20 as they say, but when we first got involved we were like, ‘Yeah, we can do this.’ Then it gets so overwhelming, you realize how big it is, how amazingly interesting and overwhelmingly great this opportunity was to do this. … A lot of people don’t know it was contributed. There were no tax dollars. We weren’t paid a cent. The driver who drove it to D.C. wasn’t paid, the crane operators weren’t paid.
“We wanted to do this to bring awareness to Wyoming, and we just have such pride. In this tight economy, it’s really hard to do that, but I guess you have to think above and beyond that.”