Reporting Bill Hudson
PINE CITY, Minn. (WCCO) — If there ever was a caretaker of our north woods, chances are it is Art Widerstrom. He’s been a forester with the Department of Natural Resources for more than 40 years.
For most of those years, Widerstrom’s been the one most responsible for selecting and cutting the Governor’s Christmas tree.
“Generally, they let us pick them. Usually either a white spruce or a balsam fir. Except the last year that Jesse was Governor – we joked about bringing him a tamarack,” said Widerstrom.
One week before Thanksgiving is the traditional time Widerstrom sets aside for tromping through the north woods and harvesting the Governor’s tree. In a part of the Chengwatana State Forest east of Pine City, Widerstrom and crew would size up the perfect balsam. Forestry technician Tim Brault had been out weeks earlier to select the tree with Widerstrom’s approval.
“That’s our tree right there,” Widerstrom said as he trudged through tall grass.
At the edge of a dry swamp, crews made quick work of brush to clear the way for a landing zone. A thick understory of small balsams would give the elder tree the perfect soft landing.
“We’re preparing a site to drop the tree because this is the one we picked, we’re going to topple this tree,” Widerstrom said.
This year, Widerstrom is handing off the honor of actually cutting into the trunk. In a move that could symbolize a changing of the guard, young Minnesota Conservation Corp Member Mary Hammes would get the high honor.
“I grew up in St. Paul so it will be fun to see it in the yard and know that I cut it down,” Hammes said.
With words of encouragement from the master forester, Hammes yanked the recoil of her chainsaw.
“You can do it, just take your time,” Widerstrom said.
The notch was made in the balsam’s trunk and her delicate and careful cut made for a perfect landing. Widerstrom’s 26th Governor’s Christmas tree gently fell to the ground and was carefully pulled from the woods.
“I’ve done this enough, we should have some kind of yoke,” Widerstrom joked as he and fellow foresters guided the large balsam up onto a trailer.
With precision and pride, the balsam was carefully tied and tarped for the long ride to St. Paul where it will adorn the front yard of the Governor’s mansion on Summit Avenue.
Chalk up another one from a spot in the forest called Governor’s Grove by the man fellow foresters call “Father Christmas.”
“So yes, we’re happy because I didn’t hear any crunching or busted limbs, so it was real good,” said Widerstrom.
Widerstrom and his crew will deliver the tree to Gov. Dayton on Monday, where it will attract attention throughout the holidays.