With their hands on their chins and their heads cocked, George Fuller, his crew and county officials inspected the Christmas tree to see if it was standing straight.
It's an annual ritual performed in many households, but when you're dealing with a six-ton tree being hoisted by a crane, it's a whole different ballgame. When the branches were fluffed and the people were in agreement, workers packed dirt around the 8-foot root ball, completing the installation of the county's first permanent Christmas tree.
"The county has had a tree in the past, but this permanent tree is one more example of how we are trying to create a sense of place in the Evans Town Center," said Frank Neal, director of community services. "With the Justice Center and the library coming on, this tree is going to be the centerpiece, something for people to rally around."
The tree was donated by Fuller, owner of Four Seasons Landscaping, and Ron Cross, CCI Construction owner and county commission chairman-elect. CCI Construction built the county's judicial center, while Four Seasons did the landscaping. With freight and installation, the tree cost about $5,000, Fuller said.
"We do a lot of work for the county and they've been good to us," Fuller said. "We live in the county and have children who come to the tree-lighting ceremony every year. We just thought it would be a nice thing for the county to have a permanent tree. Twenty years from now, the tree will be huge, so it will be pretty cool to have put it in."
The 10-year-old Carolina Sapphire, a variation of the Arizona cypress, is now 26 feet, but is expected to grow to a height of 50 to 60 feet when it matures, said Fuller. The tree was trucked in from North Carolina.
"In our area it's difficult to get a spruce or a fir to grow because it gets so hot. This is one that will last through the summer," said Leah Owens, the county's landscape architect.
The only controversy might be the location of the tree, which was planted on the east side of the courthouse, not in the center as the plans originally specified.
Magistrate Court Deputy Clerk Shelley Lewis had to come outside during the planting process to voice her objections when she saw where the tree was being placed.
"I could stop 10 different people and get 10 different opinions," said Richard Harmon, the county's building official.
Lewis retorted, "But I bet nine of them would say it should be in the center!"
"It would be pretty in the center," she added.
Owens said that because it is a specimen tree, it needed its own location where it could be highlighted.
"The rest of the landscaping is a traditional southern landscape and it just doesn't fit in with that," Owens said. "It needs its own location to keep the cohesiveness of the landscape intact. And because it is so large and the rest of the landscaping is so young, it would look out of place if it were stuck in the middle."
The new tree is expected to be the highlight of the county's second annual Christmas tree-lighting ceremony, titled Christmas in America. Last year, the county had a 20-foot tree that was placed on a stand on the left side of the Government Complex.
"It brings spirit to the county at a time we really need it," Harmon said. "We had a lot of participation last year at the lighting ceremony. Just think of what it will be this year with a live tree."
If you go:
What: Christmas in America
When: Dec. 7
Time: 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Where: Columbia County Justice Center in Evans
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