U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree: Seven Lincoln County students to see lighting of tree, meet with officials

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Lincoln County Commissioner Jerry Bennett on Monday holds a shadowbox that contains the contest-winning photos of Lincoln County high school students who will travel to Washington, D.C. for the lighting of the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree. (John Blodgett/The Western News)

As the the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree on Monday ended its journey from the Kootenai National Forest to Washington, D.C., seven juniors and seniors from Lincoln County’s three high schools were eagerly anticipating their upcoming trip to see it being lit.

The students — Hunter Leighty, Allie Coldwell and Katelyn Downey of Troy High School; Sidney Stevenson and Will O’Connell of Libby High School; and Ashlyn Carvey and Mason Davis of Lincoln County High School in Eureka — won the honor of witnessing holiday history by winning the Kootenai National Forest Capitol Christmas Tree photo contest.

In addition to watching the tree lighting 5 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 6, the students will attend a reception hosted by Sen. Jon Tester at the United States Botanic Garden and a reception hosted by U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, among other items.

For Leighty, the trip will be the second time he’s traveled outside of Montana and his first visit to the nation’s capitol.

“All of this is pretty cool and a little nerve racking,” he wrote via Facebook message. “I can’t wait.”

Carvey learned about the contest online while working for a Youth Conservation Crew over the summer, which expanded her knowledge of the Kootenai National Forest. She said she “thought it would be cool to win a trip to (Washington), D.C.,” a city she, too, has never before visited.

“I’m very excited to see a big city coming from a small town and hope to see more of the city and maybe go to the mall,” she wrote.

When Downey learned about the contest last spring, she said she “immediately knew it was something I wanted to be a part of.”

“Going to the Capitol Christmas Tree lighting is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I figured that our area is so beautiful that anyone could have a shot at winning the photo contest,” she wrote. “If all I had to do was get out, enjoy what the Kootenai National Forest has to offer, and take some pictures, I thought, ‘Why not?’”

Another first-time visitor to Washington, D.C., Downey wrote she is “super excited and grateful for the opportunity” and “would love to get out and see a little bit of the history that D.C. has to offer” if they have time outside of what’s already planned.

Stevenson was encouraged to enter the contest by her mother, Troy District Forest Ranger Kirsten Kaiser, who accompanied the trip for part of its journey east.

“It is such a great opportunity, so I couldn’t pass it up,” she wrote. “And I have never been to (Washington), D.C.”

Davis, who worked alongside his classmate Carvey in the Youth Conservation Crew, “was motivated to enter the contest because I just started getting into photography, and this seemed like a good place to start displaying my photos. (And) I’ve never actually been to the East Coast in general, so going right to Washington will be a really cool experience.”

Coldwell and O’Connell could not be reached by deadline.

The students’ winning photos were matted and framed by Devi McCully of Frames Unlimited and will be sent to Washington, D.C., where County Administrator Darren Coldwell said it will be presented to the Speaker of the House and the Capitol Architect.

“From there it’s final resting place will be in the Sidney Yates building” where the Forest Service is located, Coldwell wrote in an email.

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