ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WJHL) – For the 31st year, the Fraser Fir tree will spread Christmas cheer in Carter County.
The Elizabethton-Carter County Chamber of Commerce held its annual Christmas tree lighting on Tuesday.
“This tree lighting has been occurring for over 30 years, we call this the kickoff to our Christmas season here in Elizabethton and Carter County,” Elizabethton-Carter County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tonya Stevens said Tuesday. “The 86-foot Fraser Fir is kind of another iconic symbol in Elizabethton and Carter County and especially at Christmas when it’s all lit up.”
The festivities started with Christmas caroling. Happy Valley High School trumpeters played that national anthem before chamber members recalled the history of the Fraser Fir.
“We have the Elizabethton Chorus here, we’ve got some pageant winners, we’ve got Happy Valley High School band members here, and again, a large sense of community here that come to kick off the holiday season, so I expect a good crowd,” President of the Elizabethton-Carter County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors David LeVeau said prior to the event.
The tree and the Folsom House, next to which it is planted, hold significant history for Carter County. The two-story clapboard house was owned by Major H. M. Folsom.
The folk story says that in the late 1860s the Folsom family went to Roan Mountain and brought home Fraser Fir saplings and they were planted on each side of the home.
The now-86-foot tree is the largest Fraser Fir in the state of Tennessee and the second largest in the nation.
It is the tallest decorated Fraser Fir in the world.
The decorative lights stay dormant on the tree year-round, with the Elizabethton Electric Department spending about four-hours inspecting the safety and effectivity of each bulb before the tree lighting ceremony, officials say.
At the lighting ceremony, the Elizabethton High School Choral Group also sang and candles were lit by the University of Tennessee Extention 4-H Club.
“They will be leading a candle lighting ceremony,” Carter County UT Extension 4-H Agent Emily Barton said before the festivities started. “They will be talking about the heritage of our community, how we’ve always come together, even since 1772, with the establishment of the Watauga Association, and talking about how this event and so many other things in our community bring us together.”
Future of the Fraser Fir tree and future Christmas tree lighting ceremonies
After an announcement by the Chamber of Commerce claiming they would not be hosting this major event again, the question remains – is this the last Christmas tree lighting for Carter County?
Officials from the Elizabethton-Carter County Chamber of Commerce told News Channel 11 that though it will no longer organize the tree lighting ceremony after Tuesday, someone else will.
“We know that it will continue,” Stevens said. “There are several interested organizations and groups, so we know that it is going to continue, it is just something that we’re going to hand off to someone else.”
“Right now, again, we’re in talks with several different groups, so all that we can say is we know that it’ll be here again next year,” Stevens added. “There’ll be another event and we’ll be involved in some ways, it’s just that we will not be the ones organizing the event.”
LeVeau concurred with Stevens, saying:
“This is the last year that we’re going to be organizing the event. This is a large, famous tradition for the Carter County, Elizabethton, and it’s not going to die at all.”
“As a matter of fact, we’ve been talking to a few groups who are interested in putting it on next year,” LeVeau added. “May bring some fresh ideas to all the festivities, but until we get a commitment and we know ourselves which one will be confirmed for that, we just know that it will continue, we’re very confident.”
The historic tree has become infested with balsam woolly adelgid, tiny bugs that can kill fir trees.
Carter County officials, along with the UT Extension representatives and 4-H agents have worked together in the past to get the fir into a healthy condition.
“This is not the first time that some love has needed to be given to the tree, obviously its been here way longer than it should in the condition that it is in,” Stevens said.
According to Stevens, the fir tree should technically not be living in the Elizabethton climate, having been brought down from Roan Mountain as a sapling.
“There will be some initiatives as the season ends to take care of it, we’ve had some arborists come and look to see what can be done, and be done effectively,” Stevens added.
Barton told News Channel 11 that the Carter County UT Extension office has helped the county and county-appointed arborists identify the level of damage the bug infestation has done to the tree.
“We are very optimistic things are going to be a-ok,” Barton said.
The scale of damage, Barton said, is “very treatable.”