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Festival of Trees & Wreaths display dazzles visitors at Durango Railroad Museum

19th annual event raises money via online auction for people with disabilities
The 19th Annual Festival of Trees & Wreaths fundraiser is on display at the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

An enchanted forest of Christmas trees decked in decorations and trimmed with lights awaits discovery amid the hills and dales of the Durango Railroad Museum. “Oohs” and “aws” from wide-eyed children echoed through the forested lane with its thicket of festive wreaths that tickled the fancy of a few adults.

“We liked the liquor wreath,” said Madeleine Beiser of Durango, who was joined in laughter by friend Maria Russomanno of Tucson, Arizona. “This is the first one I’ve been to and it’s pretty creative in terms of themes and what people have come up with. I like it.”

For more info

To learn more about the Festival of Trees & Wreaths in Durango, the Festival of Wreaths in Cortez and Montezuma County, or the people who helped complete the projects, contact Community Connections at 259-2464 or visit www.communityconnectionsco.org. To visit the auction site, go to Trees22.GiveSmart.com or scan the QR code accompanying a tree or wreath at the festivals.

The 19th Annual Festival of Trees & Wreaths is a fundraiser via online auction for Community Connections, which works to support, advocate for and transform the lives of people with disabilities in Southwest Colorado.

“I love it,” Russomanno added. “It’s so creative. I haven’t seen them all yet but I really like the game tree. I’m always looking for fun games and this is really cool. And something you always do with the family at Christmas is games.”

The liquor wreath boasted an impressive number of airline-sized bottles of hooch, while the game tree was festooned with playing cards and skirted with family favorites like Rummikub, Skip-Bo, Uno and a giant-diced version of Yahtzee.

Thirty trees, 12 wreaths and 2 wooden-built trees laden with decorations and goodies, in an assortment of themes, is on display at the Silverton & Durango Narrow Gauge Museum. An online auction will take place Friday through Sunday. The trees and wreaths are decorated by families and businesses and then donated to raise money. Last year’s auction raised a record-breaking $62,000.

“We are hopeful that we are going to end up someplace in that same range this year, perhaps a bit more,” said Lisa Branner, vice president of marketing and development at Community Connections. Branner believes the amount raised last year was a reflection of “getting back to the in-person element where people could peruse the trees,” as opposed to the virtual tour imposed during the pandemic.

A wreath created by San Juan Angler hangs with all kinds of fly fishing goodies in the 19th Annual Festival of Trees & Wreaths fundraiser on Tuesday at the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Another reason for the increase in fundraising last year was the sister-event in Cortez and Montezuma County called the Festival of Wreaths.

“I think that was a big factor in the success last year because we had 46 wreaths in downtown Cortez and other Montezuma County communities and they grew exponentially.”

This year marks the 3rd Annual Festival of Wreaths, which boasts 47 wreaths, growing from 12 the first year to 46 the second. The wreathes are part of a scavenger hunt where people can search them out in different businesses then write down a code and enter to win prizes including a thousand dollars in cash cards good at businesses in Cortez. The wreaths will also be auctioned online Friday through Sunday.

“The best part of this whole event is everybody’s creativity and coming up with a theme, and how they are decorating their tree or wreath,” Branner said. “It’s super fun and different every year.”

She can only guess at the amount of time businesses and families have invested in decorating the trees and wreaths.

“It varies widely,” she said. “You’ll note that some of them are much more elaborate and that people spend a lot of time thinking about their theme and trying to gather the right things for it, and in the instance of Studs Lumber, one of the ones that actually built a tree this year, I can’t imagine how many hours went into that. I’m sure it was an enormous amount of time and effort.”

Adam Hirshberg, general manager at Studs Lumber, confirmed Branner’s suspicions. The tree, built of locally-sourced wood fiber, took the company’s lead driver 10 to 12 hours to build. While the mostly handmade decorations took the company’s operation manager and her family another 20-plus hours to make.

The 19th Annual Festival of Trees & Wreaths fundraiser is on display at the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

“Our employees enjoy giving back so for us it was a good way to give back and get some creative juices flowing within the workplace and think outside the box for a minute,” Hirshberg said. “That’s why we like the Festival of Trees because we get to make something that’s unique.”

“They go over and above every year,” Branner said when she learned of the time Studs invested.

Winning bidders don’t actually keep the artificial trees, they keep all the decorations and goods adorning the trees along with a gift, except in the case of the built trees like Studs, which they do get to keep. Bidders also keep the wreaths.

Community Connections helped 916 people in five counties last year.

The D&SNG Museum is free and open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. It is located at the Train Station at 479 Main Ave.


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