County sprucing up with donated pine

After outgrowing a Manchester couple's property, tree will decorate municipal building for holidays


Harry Mancha readily admits that he is regifting this holiday and that the recipient knows. But both parties in this gift exchange are grateful.

The Norway spruce that Mancha gave to his wife, Suzanne, 14 years ago became the couple's present to all of Carroll County last week.

"Now, it is our Christmas present to the county," said Mancha, one of more than a dozen residents to offer the county a free pine tree.

The 30-foot, lush green pine, pruned and nurtured at their Manchester home for the past 1 1/2 decades, is gracing the entrance to the County Office Building in Westminster.

At a planned Nov. 28 lighting ceremony, complete with carols, candy canes and Santa, the Manchas' spruce will be designated Carroll's second annual holiday tree.

When Mancha drove by the Center Street building last week, he spotted crews hanging lights on the tree and said, "It looks bigger there than it did in our front yard."

Many responded to the county's call for a donated pine tree, but only a few made the final cut. After trekking to those tree sites, scattered across the county, those charged with choosing the best of the lot went for the towering pine in the Manchas' front yard.

"This tree was so darned pretty that it stood out right away," said Kevin Dayhoff, chairman of the county's Environmental Affairs Council and a member of the tree search team. "A lot of folks had volunteered their trees this holiday, but many were too large."

Other trees were growing in too remote an area. Some had trunks that were too crooked or too infested with bagworms, he said. After all, when searching for the finest specimen that will serve as the official county tree, one can be choosy, he said.

Like most potential donors, the Manchas had their reasons - mostly aesthetic - for parting with the tree that Harry gave Suzanne when the pine was barely 5 feet high. Years of hardy growth and solid horticultural practice had made their mark.

"It was getting too big for our yard," Mancha said. "I couldn't see the road or mow around it."

County workers arrived at the Manchas' home early Tuesday and in no time chopped down the pine, loaded it onto a trailer and hauled it off to Westminster.

"Anything that brings a community together these days is a great idea," Dayhoff said of the tree project.

The Manchas, who will wait for spring before replanting, are savoring their clearest view of the neighborhood in years.

"I was surprised to see the house across the street," he said.

A crew of six set the tree at the County Office Building on Wednesday, just before strong storms hit.

"We put it up on the rainiest day of the season and decorated it on the coldest," said Ralph Green, director of the county's Department of General Services. "Our timing is perfect."

Last year's experience with a slightly shorter but equally cumbersome Douglas fir prompted workers to borrow a contractor's crane this time.

"It was a lot easier with a crane this year, straight up and straight down" said Bruce Fritz, supervisor of facilities. "This is a nice tree, but a big one. Its biggest problem was height and bulk."

Eight metal guide wires secure the tree firmly within the pool that surrounds the building's decorative fountain, which is shut off for the winter.

"This tree is not moving," Fritz said. "We have had some strong gusts, and it's holding."

The winds had died down Thursday, when crews returned to string nearly 2,000 lights on the tree. All that awaits is the commissioners' flick of a switch at the 5:30 p.m. ceremony on Nov. 28 that several hundred people are expected to attend.

The Manchas have delayed a long-planned trip to Florida to attend the lighting with their extended family and to take photos. Fritz has begged off.

"Nov. 28?" he said. "That's hunting season."

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