Festival of Trees transforms Methuen venue into Christmas wonderland; Over 200 trees decorated for Methuen’s annual festival

After 14 years, one may think that every kind of tree imaginable has made a debut at Methuen’s Festival of Trees. However, festival President Maureen Pollard says that just isn’t so. Take, for instance, this year’s addition of trees in the shape of golf balls, the Eiffel Tower and a Little Black Dress.

“The creativity is unbelievable this year,” said Pollard of Methuen. “I have no idea where their inspiration comes from.” The festival featuring more than 200 decorated, donated trees opens Friday night with a gala celebration, where tree decorators will win the coveted Conifer Awards, from Most Beautiful to Best Tree Done by Children. The first place prize is a beautiful Waterford Crystal Tree and second and third place winners receive a Waterford ornament, in each category. On Saturday, the public can start wandering the forest created under the copper-topped ceiling of Valley Office Park, vying for the chance to win one of the trees. To win, people purchase raffle tickets and drop them in a container by the tree they like the best. Raffle winners are drawn after the festival closes at 6:30 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 6.

Last year during the course of the two-week event, more than 25,000 people attended. Pollard had worried that the souring economy would spoil this year’s festival. All the trees are donated and decorated by local families, groups and businesses, and she worried financial concerns would hold them back.She was glad to be wrong. The number of tree donors remained steady this year.”It seems even more over the top there is a lot of hope and optimism there,” she said. Methuen’s renown, one-named stylist, Charles of Charles Beauty Wellness, returns to the festival with a special tree black with roughly 300 feet of copper tubing. The tree is part of a special raffle: Prizes include gas cards, a life-sized tiger and the tree itself. Charles always likes to do something unique for the festival. This year, he said, he wasn’t the only one to flex some creative muscle.”This isn’t a tree event, it’s an art gallery,” he said. “It’s an open gallery for people to come and see art.” Festival of Trees “worker bee” Ann Gross of Methuen continues to be amazed at the variety of trees every year. “There aren’t many things you can say are firsts any more,” said Gross, gazing at a tree made to look like the Eiffel Tower. “That is one.”

The tree, designed by the Small family of Methuen has been in the works since January. Frank Small came up with the idea for the tree and helped make it a reality with his wife, Karen, and their four children ranging in age from 4 to 8. Gross says the Smalls are among a core group of people who deliver something unique and creative to the festival year after year. “You like to have something different,” said Karen Small, who has contributed a tree for about six years, but never won one. “We ask ourselves every year how can we make it better? We want to do it better every year.”Over the years, $750,000 from the festival has been used to restore Methuen’s historic structures. Recently, the festival committee started awarding grants to restoration groups outside Methuen, working to support the region’s history.

This year, the Amos Blanchard House in Andover and the Depot in Salem, N.H., are two projects up for consideration. Festival attendees will have the chance to pick which group gets a $10,000 grant.

In addition to the tree raffle, there will be a silent auction. This year one of the items is two tickets to the finale of the next “American Idol” show, along with gift certificates for air fare and a hotel stay in Los Angeles.