The People’s Tree is coming through Glenwood |

The People’s Tree is coming through Glenwood

Ryan Summerlin
Crews load the People's Tree, which will be the U.S. Capitol's Christmas tree, in the Payette National Forest in Idaho. The Capitol's tree is making a stop in Glenwood Springs Thursday, when the city and U.S. Forest Service have events planned in celebration of the tree's tour.
Kari Greer |

On its cross-country 2,000-mile trip from the Payette National Forest in central Idaho to the U.S. Capitol, the People’s Tree, which is the U.S. Capitol’s Christmas tree, will make a stop in Glenwood Springs Thursday.

This will be the 46th year the U.S. Forest Service has provided a Christmas tree to the U.S. Capitol (not to be confused with the National Christmas Tree, which goes to the White House).

For the occasion the city of Glenwood Springs and U.S. Forest Service are having a celebration in Centennial Park.

“Glenwood Springs looks forward to being part of the U.S. Capitol Christmas tree tradition,” said Glenwood  Mayor Michael Gamba. “We are honored to celebrate the tree as it travels to Washington, D.C., and to celebrate the season with our community.”

Symphony of the Valley Brass and local band Sleepy Justice will also play at the celebration, while residents can view and take part in other festivities, such as a crosscut saw demonstration, ornament decoration, junior snow ranger programming and tours of the White River National Forest building.

“Many people might remember that in 2012 the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree came from the White River National Forest near Meeker,” said Scott Fitzwilliams, forest supervisor. “The People’s Tree carries with it a rich tradition and history of what public lands have to offer. We are happy to support this year’s Payette National Forest tree in partnership with the city of Glenwood Springs.”

The tradition started in 1964 when the speaker of the House of Representatives at the time planted the first live Christmas tree on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol.

Four years later the Capitol needed a new tree, and the national forests began rotating each year, providing a Christmas tree.

Each year one of the Forest Service’s nine regions take turns selecting a national forest from their region to supply the tree.

A Payette National Forest smoke jumper was selected to scope out candidate trees in the forest. Specifications require it be between 65 and 85 feet tall, have a good cylindrical shape, have good color and be alive and healthy, said Brian Harris, spokesman for the Payette National Forest, who’s also part of the team hauling the tree from Idaho to Washington, D.C.

Eventually 15 candidate trees were selected, and the superintendent of grounds at the U.S. Capitol traveled to Idaho to make the final selection.

This year the People’s Tree is an 80-foot Engelmann spruce, which was a sapling in 1932.

The tree was growing on Little Ski Hill, a small resort just a few miles outside of McCall, Idaho, where the national forest is headquartered.

The tree was cut on Nov. 2, a little more than a month before its scheduled lighting ceremony.

Then getting the tree loaded onto an 80-foot trailer and wrapped was a process that took about three days, said Harris.

One crane was attached to the tree before it was cut to keep it from falling to the ground and damaging any branches. And instead of using a modern chainsaw, this year Forest Service personnel used a more traditional crosscut saw.

When it was finished being cut, it was suspended in the air, and a second crane was attached to swing the tree sideways and load it onto the semi trailer.

The size of the load makes it challenging to navigate some parts of the Rockies, said Harris. “People don’t understand the scope of how big this tree is.”

For the trip, at the base of the tree is attached an 80-gallon water bladder that has to get refilled every couple days. So even on the road the tree is still drinking about 20 to 30 gallons of water per day, said Harris.

People coming to see the tree will also get a chance to sign a big banner on the truck.

The People’s Tree is scheduled for delivery in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 28, and the lighting ceremony will be Dec. 6.

The tree is supposed to be a gift from Idaho to the U.S. Capitol, said Harris. Many other smaller Christmas trees are being provided from Idaho to decorate the offices of the U.S. Capitol and elsewhere in Washington, D.C. An Idaho senator hosted a contest to select an Idaho child to flip the switch at the lighting ceremony.

And the tree will be decorated with ornaments from Idaho, most of which are made by school children who crafted ornaments of the various state symbols. Some Nez Perce tribes native to the area also produced some ornaments.

By specification the tree is supposed to have at least 4,000 ornaments, “but we’re supplying 18,000 for a bit of overachievement,” said Harris.

The tree and its entourage are also stopping in Grand Junction and Denver in Colorado, in total hitting 25 communities along its route.

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