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Billings Gazette Article

National Park Service Ornaments Grace the White House Christmas Tree


By Noelle Straub

Webmaster's Note: This article appeared in the December 2, 2007 issue of the "Billings Gazette."

Bison graze in the snow, a geyser erupts and elk pull Santa's sleigh through the starry sky over Yellowstone National Park on a special ornament adorning this year's official White House Christmas tree.

From another branch of the tree, the mountain peaks and blue lakes of Glacier National Park greet visitors to the executive mansion. Many scenes of Western beauty and history stand out among the 347 ornaments hand-painted by artists from parks across the country to trim the 18-foot Fraser fir.

First lady Laura Bush chose "Holiday in the National Parks" as her theme for this year's White House decorations. Each park received one large gold ball to decorate for the Blue Room tree that 60,000 visitors will see on tours of the White House over the holiday season.

"When you have a chance to walk around the tree, you can find your favorite and local national park, from our most magnificent ones like Yosemite to Grand Canyon, Glacier National Park, to all the ones that are historical sites, our battlefields, national monuments," she said at a press preview of the decorations.

The first lady said the theme was her idea, since she hikes with friends in the national parks every year and is honorary chair of the National Park Foundation. She also noted that the Park Service's centennial will be in 2016 and that President Bush has promoted a special challenge to increase public and private funding for the parks leading up to that date.

Many of the parks chose one of their employees to decorate the golden ball. Lynn Chan, who works as a landscape architect and planner for Yellowstone, created that park's ornament. She painted a hot pool, steamy geyser basin and herds of bison and elk along with Santa's ride.

Karen Leigh, a fourth-generation Montanan who has lived in the Flathead Valley since 1970, designed the Glacier ornament. The Hockaday Museum of Art in Kalispell recommended her to the park. Leigh's great-grandfather was part of an expedition that explored the headwaters of the Yellowstone River, and he wrote editorials in favor of setting aside the area for public use.

Grand Teton National Park's superintendent, Mary Gibson Scott, chose two local artists to create ornaments. Landscape painter Jim Wilcox, founder of the Wilcox Gallery in Jackson, painted one to highlight the magnificent scenery of the park. Wildlife artist Greg McHuron of Jackson depicted the park's wildlife. McHuron also has a 13-piece wildlife mural at the Jackson Hole and Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center.

Artists were allowed to decorate the golden balls using any materials they wanted as long as it didn't alter the size or shape of the ornament. They were asked to illustrate the most recognizable feature of the individual park. The ornaments will become part of the permanent White House collection.

The 20,000 visitors who will be fed at receptions or dinner parties will also notice the theme. Decorated cookies featuring animals found in national parks include grizzly bear, elk, fox, wolf, eagle, mountain lion, moose, road runner, buffalo, coyote and deer. Park Service Indian Head cookies also will be served.

The first lady also said the White House will be releasing a Barney Cam video soon that will show the White House pets, Barney and Beazley, being sworn in as park rangers.

The decorations include 232 wreaths, 862 feet of garland and 33 Christmas trees.

Eleven parks in Montana and Wyoming have ornaments on the tree. The others are Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Devils Tower National Monument, Fort Laramie National Historic Site, Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site, Fossil Butte National Monument, Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site, John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway and Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.

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