Tree ushers in tradition

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— The story of the boy who once jumped over the spruce tree that stands in David and Neveille Spencer's yard in Hayden may seem a little far-fetched to people who see the tree today.

The tree, planted in 1945, reaches higher than 65 feet.

"If he jumped over it today, he would have to be Superman," said Neveille Spencer, 81.

The "Spencer Tree," Hayden's trademark sign that the Christmas season has arrived, has outgrown David Spencer's ability to manage it.

For the first time since Spencer strung the tree's branches with hundreds of lights and topped it off with a gold star in 1981, the town will assume responsibility for the Hayden Christmas Tree.

"The whole valley appreciates that tree in the wintertime," said Spencer, 82. "I finally told the board that they were going to have to take care of it."

When he and two other electricians first decorated the tree, they covered only the bottom half with lights because the top could not be reached.

The men later avoided a half-decorated Christmas tree with the help of a truck equipped with a bucket.

City officials will dress the spruce tree, which stands one block west of the high school along Jefferson Avenue, with new lights later this week.

Wagner Equipment of Steamboat Springs donated a crane to assist the men in decorating the upper part of the tree.

The donation serves to express Wagner employees' appreciation for the Hayden community, salesman Trip Harrelson said.

"We depend on the community for our business," Harrelson said. "It comes full circle. This is our way of saying thanks."

The lighting ceremony is at 7 p.m. Dec. 1.

Hot chocolate, cookies and carols will follow the event, Hayden Town Manager Rob Straebel said.

"It's a nice welcome to the Christmas season," Straebel said. "This is the town's pride during the holidays."

A tree traditionally remains lit every day from 5 p.m. to midnight until 12 days after Christmas.

The tree should boast about 1,000 lights this year, although it has carried more in previous years.

The notoriety given to a Christmas tree in Aspen with 1,000 lights spurred Spencer to top off his Christmas tree with a few more than 1,000, Spencer said.

"I thought, 'I'll be damned if we're going to let them beat us,'" he said.

Both Spencer and his wife said they welcome the visitors who flock to their yard to see the well-known tree.

Motorists commonly drive slowly by their house to take a closer look at the spruce on their way through town, he said, and many parents bring their children by the tree.

Pilots sometimes point out the lighted tree before they land in Hayden, he added.

Spencer said the seasonal draw to this tree doesn't bother him, because the "Spencer Tree" belongs to everyone in the Yampa Valley.

"We aren't fenced in," he said. "It's something that everybody enjoys. It brings this town together."

Meanwhile, the tree, which Spencer said should have topped out at 60 feet, continues to reach toward the sky.

"No one told it to stop growing, I guess."

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