Making Christmas ornaments is practically a rite of passage for schoolchildren. The ornaments decorated by 42 students at Emmanuel Lutheran Preschool and Kindergarten in Rifle in September are headed to Washington, D.C.
Their ornaments will be included with more than 5,000 others from across Colorado as decorations for the Capitol Christmas Tree.
The U.S. Forest Service initiated an ornament drive earlier this year, hoping to collect 5,000 handmade ornaments from schools, 4-H clubs, Scout troops and other organizations across Colorado.
"This was the only group that was able to take advantage of this opportunity in Rifle," said Lydia Labelle De Ros, a U.S. Forest Service Rangeland Management Specialist who helped coordinate the ornament project at the preschool.
"We worked on the ornaments in September," said Emmanuel Lutheran Preschool and Kindergarten director and teacher Jane Withee. Three of the five classes at the school participated in the project.
"They call them 'cookies,'" said Emmanuel Lutheran kindergarten teacher Mary Schmidt, describing the flat wooden disks the 4- and 5-year-old students decorated with paint, glitter, sequins and ribbons. The ornaments will be collected this week for transport to Washington, D.C.
Bruce Ward, founder of the nonprofit outdoor recreation, tourism and conservation organization Choose Outdoors, and Capitol Christmas Tree national director, has said he hopes to increase awareness about the pine beetle infestation that has ravaged forests and increased the threat of wildfires, mudslides and habitat loss for wildlife. The ornament wood, provided by the Forest Service, was harvested from beetle-killed trees.
The ornaments from Emmanuel Lutheran serve a dual educational purpose: teaching kids about the forest and educating the nation about one of the greatest threats to Colorado forests, the pine beetle epidemic.
"This is so great, we're getting kids talking and thinking about the forest," De Ros said. "These are the future scientists, future protectors of the forest. It's really important to start educating them about the forest at a young age."