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Capitol Christmas Tree Comes to Town
A couple of weeks ago I made my way to the football stadium on the UofA Fayetteville
campus to see a giant Christmas tree as it made its way from California to Washington,
D.C. The weather was good and there was plenty of parking so the experience was a
pleasant one. Well, as pleasant as you would expect seeing an 84-foot white fir lying
prone encased in a plastic mesh shroud. There are many ways we use our natural resources,
and cutting them for Christmas trees must be one of the most primal uses.
In this time of political division and seeming congressional dysfunction, it is good
to know that the tree arrived safely at the U.S. Capitol and now shines bright during
the holiday season. The tree came from the Six Rivers National Forest in northern
California and was escorted across country by 18 people, including an honor guard
of forest rangers. The rangers accompanied the tree rotate on its 3,500-mile journey
across country, but at least one made the entire trip.
Moving such a tall tree across country is no simple task. The cut base of the tree
is 26 inches but a standard semi-trailer is only 55 feet long, so some special provisions
were needed. Turns out there is a special trailer which can be expanded to about 90
feet that is used just for this single purpose. Trucking companies compete to haul
the tree and rotate from year to year.
The Capitol Christmas tree project is funded by a number of organizations and many
sponsors, so tax money is not used. The first official Capitol Christmas tree dates
back to a failed attempt to transplant a live tree to the grounds in 1963. Since 1970
the US Forest Service has been donating a tree to the cause, rotating through their
nine national forestry districts. This is the fourth tree California has sent. Because
of COVID, the selection process was virtual, evaluating the trees by drone flyovers
and on-site information provided by local rangers. Arkansas, alas, has had no trees
selected because our conifers just don’t have the proper Christmas tree shape.
I have always envisioned some enormous Christmas tree stand supporting the tree, but
the Architect of the Capitol who oversees the project has a simpler plan. They dig
a four-foot-deep hole, drop the trunk in and then fill the hole with concrete. A couple
of guy wires finish the job.
To decorate the tree, California school children were tasked with making 15,000 individual
Christmas ornaments that were added, along with thousands of lights, to provide a
properly festive air. The Speaker of the House has the honor of lighting the tree
each season which took place on December 1. Along with Speaker Pelosi, fifth-grader
Michael Marvis from Del Notre, California, flipped the switch. Michael won the honor
in an essay contest, saying in part “We, the People who live in the tree’s symbolic
shadow, hope that its beauty and grandeur provide a beacon to America and a reminder
on this Christmas, that all things are possible.”
The Capitol Christmas tree is not as well known as the National Christmas tree that
sits in front of the Whitehouse. That tree dates back to 1923 during the Coolidge
administration. Over the years the National Christmas tree has added a forest of small
trees provided by each of the states and territories.
Gerald Klingaman is a retired Arkansas Extension Horticulturist and retired Operations
Director for the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks. After more than two decades of penning the popular Plant of the Week column, he’s taking a new direction, offering views on nature as he pokes about the
state and nation. Views and opinions reflect those of the author and are not those
of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. If you have questions
or comments for Dr. Klingaman about these articles contact him at email@example.com.