ROCKLAND, Maine — In the weeks before Thanksgiving, trees begin popping up in city centers across the country. But in Rockland, that “tree” looks a bit different.
Instead of a classic white pine, Rockland’s holiday tree is made from 155 lobster traps, 2,500 lights, 600 feet of garland, more than 100 buoys and countless zip ties.
“Do not take shortcuts on the zip ties,” Rockland Main Street Inc. Executive Director Gordon Page said Thursday as a team of volunteers constructed the lobster trap tree.
For more than two decades, the lobster trap tree has marked the start of the holiday season in Rockland, which is home to the Maine Lobster Festival and has been called “the Lobster Capital of the World.”
The lobster trap tree is a part of Rockland’s Festival of Lights, a 25-year-old tradition that takes place just after Thanksgiving and runs through Christmas. The festival includes visits with Santa, a decorated downtown and a parade of lights that shuts down Main Street for a night. For about the past 10 years, Rockland Main Street Inc. has been organizing both the Festival of Light and the lobster trap tree.
“It’s tradition. Rockland is a lobstering community. To have a recognition of the lobstering industry in the form of a Christmas tree is pretty special,” Page said.
The 40-foot-tall tree starts with 12 traps at its base and then a diminishing number of traps on every other layer as the tree gets higher.
Trial and error in the tree’s early years led to several mishaps, including two instances where the top third of the tree toppled over after a few zip ties broke. But now the crew does not skimp on the zip ties.
Each year, the tree is built entirely by volunteers, including people from Rockland’s U.S. Coast Guard base and the Bolduc Correctional Facility. Page said one of his favorite aspects of the trap tree tradition is the diversity of volunteers
“When you look up [at the crew], with the exception of some ink, you wouldn’t know the difference between [someone from] Bolduc and someone from the Coast Guard,” Page said.
The tree’s green and red lobster traps are made by Brooks Trap Mill, located in Thomaston. Each year after the tree is taken down in early January, 50 or so traps are returned to Brooks Trap Mill, where they’ll be reintegrated into their inventory and sold. The remaining 100 traps will be raffled off to two people who have the option of keeping the traps to use for themselves, or receiving a cash prize instead. If the cash is chosen, the traps will return to Brooks Trap Mill to be sold to fishermen.
While the tree is fully constructed, it will not be lit until Friday at 6 p.m., marking the start of the Festival of Lights.