Malinda Ham knew the large spruce destined to be Washington D.C.'s Christmas tree this year was coming through the Tri-Cities.
The 12-year old Enterprise Middle School student and her fellow Girl Scouts in Troop 3536 helped make the skirt, covered in symbols representing the state of Washington, that will wrap around the base of the tree once it's erected.
But when the specialized semi truck hauling the Capitol Christmas Tree rolled up in front of Three Rivers Convention Center Saturday night, Malinda was amazed
"I didn't think it would be this tall," she said.
At least 400 people crowded the sidewalks and parking lots around the convention center to catch a glimpse of the 88-foot tall tree, which was mostly covered by a special box. Tri-City residents and officials alike said they were happy for the opportunity and thrilled at the enthusiasm for the tree's pit stop.
"I think it's indicative of the Tri-Cities," said Kris Watkins, president and CEO for the Tri-Cities Visitor & Convention Bureau. "When we do an event, we do it right."
The tree, along with a few smaller ones for other federal offices in the national capital, were all cut in the Colville National Forest. This is only the second time the trees have come from Washington state since the annual Christmas tree tradition started in 1964.
The trucks hauling the trees will travel more than 5,000 miles before reaching Washington, D.C., stopping in cities and towns on the way. While the journey has only really begun, officials said they were impressed by their reception in the Tri-Cities.
"We've had good crowds but not this many," said Jen Knutson, coordinator for the Capitol Christmas Tree program, adding that never has the truck been "mobbed" when it arrived.
The size of the crowd could have had something to do with the fact the trees arrived roughly an hour late. Knutson said that was because of "some very diligent people working to make sure we were legal" at the weigh station on Interstate 82 just across the Columbia River from Oregon.
There was plenty to keep families occupied until the tree arrived, though. A few different groups, some wearing Santa hats, sang Christmas carols and kids could also meet with Santa and Mrs. Claus. The convention center had already decked its halls with wreaths, garlands, snowflake light fixtures, and silver and gold lights in the trees outside its large lobby windows.
People crowded around the truck after it arrived, trying to catch a glimpse of a decorated six-foot section of the tree through windows on either side of its special box.
Families heard about the tree in different ways. Dayna Faultersack of Kennewick brought her two children after reading about it on Facebook. Vicki Olivas, also of Kennewick, saw it on TV and in the Herald and made sure her daughter's cheerleading group, Kennewick Grid Kids, made an appearance.
"We try to do everything that makes history in the Tri-Cities," Olivas said.
And while Halloween was only a little more than a week ago and Thanksgiving has yet to come, everyone seemed happy to see the sights and sounds of Christmas make an early appearance.
"I think it's really cool they decided to stop in the Tri-Cities," said Marshall Ham, Malinda's twin brother.
-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @_tybeaver