OLD TOWN, Maine — When Travis Roy, the assistant city manager and city assessor in Old Town, looked at photos online of the Rockland Christmas tree made out of lobster traps and the tree made from stacked potato barrels in Fort Fairfield, he wished for something similar right here at home.
From that moment, a vision for a creative Christmas tree in Old Town was born. Roy, along with a few other city employees, went before the council with hopes more people would join the effort to create and display a one-of-a-kind tree for the winter season.
Like other quirky holiday trees around the state, the Old Town tree, made entirely of kayaks, is emblematic of the community it represents.
It symbolizes the city’s historical connection to the Penobscot River and displays locally crafted kayaks.
“When you kind of think of Old Town, as far as the heritage of the community in relation to the river and Old Town canoe having been here so long, I think it’s a really good representation of the community,” City Manager Bill Mayo said.
Roy said he has yet to see the kayak tree replicated anywhere else. “It’s different, you know.”
It didn’t take the group long to decide they would create a tree that could showcase a big part of history in the Penobscot region, Mayo said. They partnered with Old Town Canoe, which supplied about 30 red and green kayaks for the project.
“We were trying to look at how [the company has] been branded in the city,” Mayo said.
For their second consecutive year, Roy set out with his crew mid-morning on Thursday to assemble the kayak tree for this year.
The tree is installed by hoisting kayaks up into the air, then clipping them to heavy-duty carabiners on a giant steel structure that holds the boats in place.
With each passing year, his crew is trying to test out the most effective ways to mount the tree to keep the tradition going. “We keep looking at improvements every year,” he said. The first year the crew attempted the job, it took almost the entire day to put together because they were lifting the kayaks up by hand.
This year, things are different. A local contractor, Clarence “Bugsy” Bryant, offered to help the team by bringing a lift to hoist the kayaks into the air, speeding up the installation process.
Roy said Bryant took his machine off another work site on Thursday morning and brought in one of his own workers to help put up the tree.
By 11 a.m., they’d managed to fit 20 full-sized kayaks onto the steel structure, which was also designed by the city’s public works department.
The two-man lift crew once again made its way up to the very top of the tree to put on the finishing touch: a circular sign with the Old Town Canoe logo to symbolize a Christmas star.
On Friday night, the tree will be glowing beside the Penobscot River with 10 more miniature trees shining right alongside it.
Roy and Mayo estimated that somewhere between 75 and 100 people came out last year for the Christmas festival and more may have attended if not for the cold temperatures. Mayo said it was close to 10 degrees outside during last year’s event.
Anticipating a better turnout with forecasts for slightly warmer temperatures, Roy said he hopes more people will show up this time around to take part in the community celebration.
“I don’t draw boundaries at town lines. This is our community,” he said.
The Christmas tree lighting event will begin at 4:30 p.m. Friday at the Old Town Riverfront Park. There will be live music, an ice-carving demonstration, raffles for a free kayak and a certificate for Carpenter’s Christmas Farm.
There will also be a limited supply of free hot beverages along with hamburgers and hotdogs, courtesy of the Old Town Booster Club and the Out of the Ordinary restaurant, Roy said.
“We don’t want this to cost anybody a thing,” he said.