Festival of Trees raises more than $40,000 for local nonprofits, money to go to Platte Valley Helping Hands and Mother Mountain Anglers
Christmas magic was on full display at the 21st Annual Festival of the Trees, held at the Platte Valley Community Center in Saratoga on December 1.
According to Saratoga/Platte Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO Amanda Knotwell, the annual event had approximately 250 people in attendance—the highest turnout in the past five years. This year’s event also raised more than $43,000 gross with $36,875 of that from the live auction held that night. While a number of items were auctioned off between $100 and $200, there were a few high-dollar items which saw bidding battles break out in the Great Hall.
One such item was moose jerky donated by Leonard Johnson, which went for a whopping $3,000. The only items to go for more was “Dreaming of Fishing for Christmas” donated by Medicine Bow Anglers/Hack’s Tackle. Other popular items up for auction included “Gingy’s Brown & Gold Christmas” which had a football signed by the 2023-2024 University of Wyoming football team and “Memories of Christmas Past” donated by Kathy Campbell.
The auctioneer for the evening was James “Jimmy” Hinkle who, with the help of Platte Valley Community Center Director Joe Elder and Chamber Board Member Amanda Shahadey, moved through the list of 55 items fairly quickly.
“I was very pleased with how things turned out,” said Knotwell. “One thing I kept hearing over and over was just people saying how great an event it was and we weren’t there all night. It was three hours. We were in, we ate, we were out. It was great.”
While the event is a fundraiser for the Saratoga/Platte Valley Chamber of Commerce itself, each year the Chamber selects two local nonprofits to donate to as well. The only exception was last year, with all proceeds going to the Chamber due to the cancellation of the Saratoga Lake Ice Fishing Derby. This year, the two organizations selected were Platte Valley Helping Hands and Mother Mountain Anglers.
Platte Valley Helping Hands was formed in 1996 with the primary intention of serving people in the Valley who are facing medical challenges.
“If you’ve ever broken your arm, if you’ve ever broken your leg, if you’ve needed a hospital bed, if you’ve needed any sort of medical equipment it’s free of charge,” said Knotwell.
The organization has used its annual community Thanksgiving dinner as a fundraiser. Historically held in St. Ann’s Parish Hall, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the organization to do delivery only in 2020, 2021 and 2022. This year, the organization resumed in-person dining with the dinner held at the Platte Valley Community Center.
“We thought they would be a good choice this year,” said Knotwell. “Maybe they could get some updated medical equipment to loan out.”
Mother Mountain Anglers is a much more recent addition to the nonprofits in the Valley, but with a mission just as important as the rest. Each year, this Encampment-based organization gives out two scholarships to graduates in Encampment and Saratoga. But that’s not all they do.
“They raise their own funds for the fireworks display in Encampment, they hold fishing lessons every summer at the Huck Finn Park pond,” said Knotwell. “In the winter, they hold an ice fishing clinic.”
During summer school, the fishing lessons teach students about how to find organisms typically eaten by fish and used as models for fly fishing. The ice fishing clinic in the winter is held the weekend before the Saratoga Lake Ice Fishing Derby and teaches children about the importance of ice safety, how to properly drill ice holes for fishing and what to do if they fall through the ice. Mother Mountain Anglers has also placed picnic tables at a number of access points along the North Platte River.
One other bit of Christmas magic which played out at the event was the final ticket for the Reverse Drawing. As the name implies, the last person—not the first—gets the prize of $1,000 in Chamber Bucks. The final drawing is always held at the Festival of Trees and the winner this year was Ciji Bauer. Knotwell was nearly in tears as she announced the winner on Friday night, with Bauer herself shocked that she won.
“This young gal only had one ticket on that board. Her and her husband are just little lights in the community,” said Knotwell. “They’ve been down at Bridge Street Bargains volunteering on their days off from work.”
According to Knotwell, the event wouldn’t be possible each year if it wasn’t for the business and individuals who not only donate auction items, but also sponsor tables for the event. This year, Knotwell is keeping the paddle raise open until December 11, allowing people who may still want to donate anywhere from $100 to $1,000 to do so.
“It’s really great to live in the Platte Valley,” said Knotwell.