KITTERY, Maine — In a holiday homage to the town’s deep roots in the fishing industry, a ten-and-a-half-foot Christmas tree has been erected on the docks of Pepperrell Cove.
But there’s a catch: This tree doesn’t smell like pine, need water or require trimming.
Last weekend, a handful of locals built the first-ever Kittery lobster buoy tree, a tall, Christmas tree-shaped structure made from about 300 decorated buoys and adorned with a string of festive lights.
The buoy tree, located behind Frisbee’s Wharf overlooking the chilled water, was a fundraising effort to benefit Wreaths Across America, a national organization that places holiday wreaths on the graves of veterans around America.
Kelly Philbrook, an organizer of the buoy tree's formation, and Sheila Chapman, leader of the town’s Wreaths Across America efforts, joined forces to bring the idea to life.
“It was a lot of fun,” Philbrook said. “And it brings a smile to peoples’ faces.”
Chapman has been working for several years to add Kittery to Wreaths Across America’s list of over 2,500 participating countrywide municipalities, a mission that finally came to fruition this year.
Proceeds from the sale of 200 lobster buoys in Kittery over the last few weeks for the creation of the tree have led to the purchase of 267 wreaths that will be put on the graves of veterans in three Kittery Point cemeteries, as well as those interred in Orchard Grove.
Due in part to other fundraisers this year, a grand total of 635 wreaths are being placed on the gravesites of veterans buried throughout the town this holiday season.
“And next year, we’re hoping that both the shipyard and Highland (Cemetery) will come in,” Chapman said.
Inspiration for the buoy tree came from about 25 minutes north in Wells, where Philbrook’s longtime friend, Steve Lawrence, asked for her to join him on a car ride last winter.
“He goes, ‘I’ve got to show you something,’” Lawrence told her. “And when we walked out on that dock, I said, ‘We’ve got to have one of these. I don’t know how to do it, but we’ve got to do it.’”
She posed the idea to locals on Facebook later this past summer and, after the buoys were ordered this fall, helped sell them all over the span of a few weekends. Local lobstermen donated even more buoys, which were dispersed to interested participants.
“Those sold right off, because people were calling and going, ‘Where can I buy one? Where can I get one?’” Chapman said.
An employee of Traip Academy and chair of the Kittery Port Authority, Philbrook set up two buoy drop-off boxes at the school and a third at Pepperrell Cove for when people had finished decorating them.
She collected them all and stored them at home ahead of the big build, the buoys featuring a wide range of messages on them. “My garage was full of buoys,” Philbrook said.
On Saturday, she and a few helpers constructed the frame of the structure, then layered the buoys along it the next day into the shape of a Christmas tree. Each night, with the help of a self-regulated timer, the buoy tree will be aglow along the cove.
Decorations span from paintings of Wood Island and sailboats to one emblazoned with the Boston Red Sox logo, another with the face of a smiling Santa Claus and a buoy portraying a bearded, cartoonish lobstermen.
Businesses like Lil’s Café and Hamilton Marine contributed their own buoy, as well as the newly-installed Seacoast Fridge and the Kittery Lion’s Club. Town Manager Kendra Amaral got in on the fun, hand-painting her buoy to look like a loveable minion from the “Despicable Me” movie series.
— Town Manager (@TownofKittery) November 17, 2021
The buoy at the very top is to honor the late town fisherman Dave Baxter, who died in the summer. Beneath his buoy are several also honoring deceased members of Kittery's fishing community.
"It was important to the community of fishermen down here that he was remembered, so he got the top spot," Philbrook said of Baxter.
Colored almost entirely in black, save for a small painted tree branch with a red ornament on it, one buoy contains a classic line from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” in 1965: “It’s not what’s under the Christmas tree that matters, it’s who’s around it.”
Chapman and Philbrook said the tree has already brought in its fair share of onlookers, as a number of residents walk down the pier by themselves or with their dogs and have stopped to view the town’s inaugural buoy tree.
It’s a philanthropic achievement they want to continue into the future. “We’re hoping,” Chapman said.
The laying of the wreaths on veterans’ graves will occur on Saturday, Dec. 18 after a ceremony at First Christian Church in Kittery Point at 12 p.m. Members of the public interested in joining the town’s Wreath Across America efforts can call Chapman at (207) 703-0525 for information.
This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Kittery's first lobster buoy holiday tree has deeper meaning and cause