In a tough economy, Kentucky will avoid even the minimal cost of hauling in an official Christmas tree, opting instead to decorate an evergreen growing on the Capitol’s front lawn.
Finance Cabinet spokeswoman Cindy Landham said Monday that Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration opted not to follow the traditional route of issuing a public request for a donated tree that state workers typically load aboard a truck and haul to Frankfort.
The move is drawing kudos from environmentalists, including leaders of the forest protection group Heartwood that has a strong contingent in Kentucky.
“We appreciate the sentiment that it is possible to have all the joy that a well-decorated tree can bring but do it in a way that doesn’t require killing a tree,” said Andy Mahler, a member of the group that advocates for protection of hardwood forests in the eastern U.S.
Heartwood pushes for the preservation of trees, particularly those that are exceptionally old or strikingly beautiful, but generally doesn’t oppose the cutting of trees for Christmas observances.
Mahler said Kentucky’s break from the tradition of cutting a tree sends an important message about government thrift at a time “when a lot of families are having to scrimp to put something underneath the tree.”
Lee Troutwine, a local member of Heartwood, said he doesn’t like to see traditions end but understands the decision may save the state some money in shipping a tree to Frankfort.
“Tradition comes in conflict with the economy,” Troutwine said.
Troutwine doesn’t oppose cutting down trees for the state Christmas display, saying the trees usually outgrow their surroundings.
“Most of those trees have been in somebody’s yard, they’ve been pruned, they’ve been perfect, and now they’re too big and the owners would like to get rid of them,” Troutwine said. “It’s 50 cents one way and half a dollar the other.”
Christmas trees donated to Kentucky in years past typically have stood at the end of the lengthy walkway leading to the Capitol’s front doors, a location where a stage is now under construction for Beshear’s pre-Christmas inaugural festivities. Beshear spokeswoman Kerri Richardson said that played a part in the decision not to bring in a cut tree.
Beshear is scheduled to lead the annual tree lighting ceremony on the front lawn of the Capitol on Thursday evening, when a crowd will gather around the spruce that already is sporting ornaments, including a huge star on top.
“I think in the spirit of things, decorating and honoring a living tree that can grow year after year is a really beautiful thing,” said Jim Scheff, director of Kentucky Heartwood.