BENEZETTE – With Christmas less than two weeks away, holiday cheer is evident throughout the community, and at the Elk Country Visitor Center in Benezette. The center has had its Christmas tree on display since late November and is once again looking for ornaments to decorate it.
According to Carla Wehler, Elk Country Visitor Center Operations Manager, the tree is bigger than last year's and was selected by staff members Brandi Hanes, Jean Germer, and Scott Rhodes.
The trio did not have to go far to find the perfect tree. The visitor center is located on the site of a former Christmas tree farm, so they were able to find their tree right on the center's property.
"There's still some Christmas trees left, although they're getting big. It works out well for us," Wehler said.
One of the most unique features of the tree is that many of the decorations were either brought in by visitors or sent to the facility by supporters from around the country.
"The idea was just to get kind of a collection of ornaments from people that like to visit Elk Country and like wildlife and habitat, and [we've been] asking that they bring some kind of ornament that shows a little about who they are, where they live, or what they like to do," Wehler said.
Wehler added that encouraging individuals to bring in ornaments worked out well last year and the center received close to 70, all of which are back on display on this year's tree.
"It was a lot of fun, and then we had people bringing their ornaments in all year long. We have a lot of people saying they're still coming this winter, but wanted to be able to put [the ornaments] on the tree themselves," Wehler said.
Anyone taking an ornament to the center is free to walk in and place it wherever they would like on the tree, according to Wehler.
"They can just walk in and pick a spot," Wehler said. "That's what makes it fun. A lot of people like to put it on themselves and like to choose where it goes."
While ornaments can be any size or shape, Wehler requested that they not be made of edible items or anything else that is considered perishable.
She also noted that the center was in a bit of a hurry to get their Christmas tree set up this year as they received a call from the family of a young man from New York who hoped to propose in front of it.
"They wanted to do it in front of our Christmas tree because the young couple likes Elk County and enjoys visiting the area. So the family and friends had made arrangements with us to be ready and have the tree up so they could do that," Wehler said.
According to Wehler, the proposal took place shortly after 11 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 26.
"[The couple] had actually been walking around outside a little bit. The elk were out, so that kind of gave the family and friends time to get inside. Everybody was pretty much in place waiting, and then the young couple walked in and of course the young woman was stunned because a banner was hung on the tree with 'will you...' on it with her name and picture," Wehler said.
Wehler was also happy to report that the young woman set 'yes' to the proposal.
"It was a lot of fun," Wehler said. "It was really exciting and we enjoyed being able to host a place for their special occasion."