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Festival of Trees makes holiday season bright
By LISA BRITTON
Of the Baker City Herald
A quiet hum floats down the staircase at the Oregon Trail Regional Museum, and intensifies with each upward step.
Once on the second floor landing, the reason for the activity is apparent there's a flurry of activity in the ballroom as volunteers rush to decorate Christmas trees for this weekend's Festival of Trees.
Weaving his way through the decorators and evergreens is Bob Borders, the vice president of specialty services at St. Elizabeth Health Services.
But this week he's a troubleshooter and a problem-solver as he, along with others who are putting in 12-hour days this week, readies the museum for a crowd of 500 on Friday night.
Borders is in charge of preparing the facility and making sure the electricity works not a small job when the museum ballroom will be lit by Christmas tree lights.
"That's the hardest part making sure all the electrical works. We only have so much amperage we can draw from," he said.
When asked about how many lights decorate the trees and facility, he can only guess.
"We might have 30,000 lights it's a lot, I know that."
Decorators were let into the ballroom Tuesday night to begin decorating their trees. Most of the volunteers with artificial trees had already wired lights to the tree and started on the ornaments, but the decorators of the five live Noble firs had to start from scratch.
Borders said they chose this type of evergreen for its distinct scent.
"The smell is just overwhelming. It's like you're out in the forest."
And they don't choose just any old trees.
"We kind of scour the country. We're just really particular about the size and the shape and they have be really uniform. This year I went to Walla Walla," he said.
When finished, each tree is wired with 1,000 lights and will sport hundreds of ornaments, said Denise Van Artsdalen, festival co-chair and director of communication at the hospital.
The 20 seven-foot trees each decorated to a theme will be auctioned off Friday night to bidders who not only receive the fully decorated tree, but also many gifts that were either bought or donated by local businesses. There will be sheets available onsite that detail what gifts come with the trees and who donated them.
Five four-foot trees will also be part of the live auction.
There will also be a silent auction for 25 miniature trees, decorated by local businesses, and 37 wreaths.
The wreaths will be displayed at the east end of the balcony during the Festival.
"They're all totally different," Van Artsdalen said, pointing out decorating themes of Christmas, cowboys, snowmen, fishing, seashore, music of Christmas, and Mickey and Minnie Christmas.
All proceeds raised at the Festival will be dedicated to the new 4,600 square foot birth center at St. Elizabeth Health Services.
In contrast to the decorating frenzy in the ballroom, the old natatorium, which will be filled with music, dancers and food come Friday, is eerily silent.
An intricate gingerbread North Pole, complete with sugar-cube igloos, Santa's toy shop and house, sits in a corner awaiting the first bid.
The gingerbread creation was donated by Powder River Correctional Facility and includes minute details, from the cinnamon bears with santa hats to Rudolph's red nose.
Several artificial trees light the way to the picture area, where a sleigh sits, ready for the first occupants. Baker City Photographic Services will take the pictures Friday night, and Kiwanis will be offering pictures with Santa as a fund-raiser during family day on Saturday.
Everything must be in place and ready by noon on Friday when Van Artsdalen, Borders and Festival co-chair Zane Lockwood do a final walk-through, making sure everything is set for the gala.
Last year, at the first-ever Festival, Borders said he didn't leave the museum until 5:45 p.m. The event starts at 6:30 pm.
However, after a year's worth of planning, they get to enjoy all the hard work and thousands of volunteer hours that make the Festival happen.
On Friday night, all ballroom lights are extinguished, leaving only the Christmas tree lights to reflect off the hardwood floor.
"With the shine that comes off the floor, it is just magnificent in here. The first time you walk in, it just takes your breath away," Borders said.