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Holiday Tree Hits the Road

Engelmann Spruce Set to Arrive at Capitol on Dec. 1

There is no better way to announce the coming of the winter holiday season than wrapping a 66-foot tree to a trailer and taking it on a 2,581-mile journey from Idaho to the nation’s capital. Step aside, puny pines — this 10,000-pound Engelmann spruce is taking over.

Landscape Architect of the Capitol Matthew Evans chose the 77-year-old tree from Boiling Springs in the Boise National Forest after viewing 13 trees chosen by forest rangers in the state.

“The [Landscape] Architect of the Capitol grounds came out to look at several individual trees and he looked at this particular Engelmann spruce, and his feelings were it was a perfect Christmas tree,” said Clark Fleege, acting public affairs officer of the Boise National Forest.

The spruce “was full, it didn’t have any spots, it would look good by itself, and it would look good with the ornaments,” he said.

A tree-cutting ceremony took place Nov. 3, and the spruce began its cross-country journey Nov. 8, strapped to a 65-foot trailer provided by Idahoan Jack Buell and his company JMF Trucking Co.

“A challenge we had was when we took the trailer into the tree-cutting site,” said Syd Weiland, project co-coordinator. “ We had a crane following [the trailer] and we had to use the crane three times to pick up the trailer to get it around the curves. We didn’t expect using the crane as much as we did.”

Buell also donated the truck towing the trailer, a driver — who has become a state icon of sorts with children asking him for his autograph — as well as additional vehicles to transport the 6,000 ornaments made by school children and 70 companion trees that will be placed in various government offices.

The Capitol holiday tree will visit 53 communities in Idaho and several states on its 23-day journey to Washington, D.C. A team of 20 volunteers is traveling with the tree, and a daily journal of the journey is being kept at www.capitolholidaytree2003.org

The tree is expected to arrive in D.C. on Dec. 1, where it will be erected on the West Front lawn for the traditional lighting ceremony on Dec. 11, when Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) will light more than 10,000 lights. The tree will remain on the lawn through Jan. 1 and will then be mulched and used on the Capitol grounds.

The Capitol holiday tradition began in 1964 when then-Speaker John McCormack (D-Mass.) called J. George Stewart, the Landscape Architect at the time, and said, “It would be nice to have a Christmas tree on the grounds.”

From then on, the Agriculture Department’s Forest Service has chosen a state to provide the tree from one of their national forests. This year the honor went to Idaho, which has raised thousands of dollars in cash and in-kind donations to transport the spruce. No federal money is used to bring the holiday tree to the Capitol. This is the first year that Idaho has provided the tree.

Oregon provided last year’s tree, and next year’s tree will come from Virginia.

A committee chooses the states in five-year cycles in case complications occur (California was scheduled to provide this year’s tree, but a beetle infestation prohibited the state from doing so). Currently, regions have already been chosen until 2007, but the national committee will send out a call letter to generate interest for the next five-year cycle, said Beverly Carroll, national coordinator of the Capitol holiday tree.

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