For the first time, a holiday tree from Alaska will be the guest of honor at the White House. For more than 50 years, a tree has graced the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol, and since 1970, a national forest has been the sender of the tree.
This year, it’s Chugach National Forest’s turn.
“I think normally there is an application process, but last year our regional forest office was asked if one of our forests would be interested,” said Mona Sprago, Chugach National Forest spokeswoman.
The answer, obviously, was yes. Since that request last year, the forest staff has gotten busy locating just the right tree.
“Our silviculturist went out and scouted about 15 trees, and then it was 10, and then it was an even smaller number,” Sprago said. With a shortlist in hand, Forest Service employees forwarded the images on to tree-acquirers in D.C. In May, a representative from the Capitol grounds came to Alaska to look at the trees himself.
“They looked at it from all angles and made sure it was just right,” Sprago added.
The guest of honor is a Lutz Spruce, which is a naturally occurring hybrid between a Sitka Spruce and a white spruce. It stands 74 feet tall and is located in an as-yet-unnamed location on the Kenai Peninsula. Sprago said there will be a media event at the tree cutting, which is set for Oct. 27, although it is not an easy trek to reach the secret location.
“Countless Alaskans have cut down their own Christmas tree from the Chugach over the years, and I’m glad that the U.S. Capitol is following suit,” said U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of the effort. “This is truly a well-deserved recognition for Alaskans to be proud of.”
Once the tree is cut, transporting the behemoth is going to be another production. It will be swathed in a 60-gallon bladder to keep it fresh at the trunk. It then will be transported to Anchorage on Nov. 3, and shipped to the Lower 48 via ship.
“We will be stopping in places along the way to celebrate the tree, too,” Sprago said. It should arrive in D.C. on Nov. 18, where it will be staged and decorated for the holidays.
National Forest officials in Alaska say that the tree is an opportunity to showcase how the Alaska landscape sustains and inspires people.
“The tree will symbolize Alaskans and our connection to place, to both the lands and communities that make up our home,” it said in a press release in September.
“Alaskans rely on the Chugach National Forest and other public lands for work, food, community, inspiration and joy,” said Chugach National Forest supervisor Terri Marceron. To that end, the tree is meant to deliver plenty of joy.
Sprago said that while the tree selection was under way, there also were ornament-making events happening throughout Alaska. About 125 organizations throughout the state participated, making ornaments of all shapes and sizes. Alaska Geographic, the nonprofit partner for Alaska’s public lands and co-leader for the Forest’s youth engagement program, Chugach Children’s Forest, has led the ornament creation efforts.
In total, 4,000 ornaments will be delivered, along with 20 to 30 tree skirts that will adorn smaller trees in White House offices.
“It’s been really fun,” Sprago said. “I’m ready for Christmas to be here. It’s a lot of work and it’s been really great for community collaboration with the Forest Service.”
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