A Day in the Life of the Christmas Tree Harvest Crew

Office of Performance and Transformation's Communication Representative Monica Drake follows different State of Michigan employees throughout the year.

Members of the State Capitol Christmas Tree Harvest Crew were driving around the City of Alpena when a 62-foot-tall spruce caught their attention. They immediately fell in love with the 9,200-pound, 50-year-old tree.

“We literally pulled into the driveway, knocked on the door and asked the homeowners if they would be willing to donate their tree,” said Heath Miller, Department of Technology Management and Budget (DTMB) Christmas Tree Crew Member.

The Christmas Tree Crew – Heath Miller, Chris Rankin, Olivia Koenigsknecht, and Gerald Keeder of DTMB and Matt White of the Michigan State Capitol Facilities Office – is tasked with harvesting the tree that lights up the Capitol each holiday season. The crew partners with the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association and the Michigan Association of Timbermen to cut down and transport the tree.

This year’s tree came from the front yard of Alpena residents Shelly and Mike Katto’s home.

Shelly said, “Heath talked to my husband – who’s a big tree hugger – and at first he said no. Then he realized how big of a deal it would be for the community. It’s a one in a million chance that our tree would be picked.”

Miller, Building Trades Supervisor at the DTMB Energy Center, said, “I was asked to be part of the crew about five years ago. My first year I had a really good time, so I decided to continue doing it. I’m very fortunate and privileged to be part of this committee.”

Before the tree was cut down, Senator Jim Stamas, Representative Sue Allor, Downtown Lansing Inc. Executive Director Mindy Biladeau, and Michigan Township Association President Ken Gauthier joined the Christmas Tree Crew and hundreds of community members at a ceremony in the Katto’s backyard. Miller said the ceremony is his favorite part of the harvesting.

“Just before the tree is cut down, all of the kids in the audience yell out, ‘Timber!’” he said.

Then came the tedious part. Using a crane, the tree was laid down on the ground and, for the next four or five hours, the crew tied up all the tree limbs to get it ready for transport to downtown Lansing.

DTMB Health and Safety Coordinator Olivia Koenigsknecht’s role was to ensure that everyone on site followed safety protocols and wore their personal protective equipment.

“I make sure nobody gets hurt,” she said. “Christmas is my favorite holiday, so I love the whole process, from beginning to end – helping pick out the Christmas tree, harvesting it, and then bringing it to Lansing.”

When the tree arrived in Lansing, Matt White, assistant facility director at the Capitol, helped coordinate with the City of Lansing and the Lansing Board of Water and Light (BWL).

“The tree’s placed in a 6-foot-deep manhole, surrounded by a cube of concrete, so the wind won’t knock it over,” said White, who also serves on the Silver Bells in the City Committee. “Then Capitol electricians and mechanics meet with staff from the Lansing Forestry Division to check the tree for broken branches and add limbs to the tree to fill it out.”

After the installation of the tree, BWL employees decorated the tree with thousands of red and green lights.

White said his favorite part of the tree harvesting is the collaboration between different groups and businesses. “People from across the state come together and donate their time and labor to make this happen.”

Click here to watch a video of the Christmas tree harvesting ceremony.