Feature

A Giant Christmas Tree’s 4000 Mile Journey from Alaska to Capitol Hill

Robert Westover
Office of Communication, U.S. Forest Service
November 9th, 2015 at 8:15PM

Center, just below the white crane arm, is the towering Lutz spruce which will soon adorn the West Lawn of Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. For over 90 years the majestic Lutz spruce stood silently in the Chugach National Forest near Seward, Alaska.

Hidden from most tourists, except intrepid hikers, the spruce, as high as a seven story building, would have aged in obscurity but for a stroke of luck: this Lutz spruce was chosen among the more than five million acres of the Chugach’s wooded forests to be the proverbial “People’s Tree” and grace the slope of the West Lawn on Capitol Hill just beneath the soaring white dome that unites both wings of Congress.

Officially known as the Capitol Christmas Tree, the People’s Tree from Alaska will be the first to come from America’s biggest state. Every year since 1970, from New Hampshire to California, the U.S. Forest Service, in cooperation with the U.S. Architect of the Capitol’s Office has selected a tree from one of the 154 forests it manages.

Except Alaska.

It wasn’t anything personal. Alaska is just too far and the logistics of getting a giant conifer from there to DC in one piece is a massively daunting task.

Last minute finishing touches are performed on the banner that will wrap the truck trailer designated to take the 2015 National Capitol Christmas Tree on its journey across America. However, all this was overcome when Beth Pendleton, U.S. Forest Service Regional Forester for Alaska, agreed to bring the 2015 People’s Tree from her state. She felt that this Christmas gift would, in her words, “Encompass the best of the Last Frontier with all of its rich natural resources and rich culture. And it represents the boundless opportunities in Alaska.”

On November 20, with the invaluable help of many individuals, non-profits and private sector businesses, including the Forest Service’s nonprofit partner Choose Outdoors, an 80 foot trailer will arrive beneath the West Lawn of Capitol Hill and unload the Peoples’ Tree. The 74 foot tall Lutz spruce will then be hoisted into place and decorated with thousands handmade ornaments designed and created by community groups, artists and school children across Alaska.

Finally on December 2, as evening envelopes the West Lawn, in a ceremony hosted by Speaker of the House Paul D. Ryan, a switch will be flipped and thousands of lights will shine from Alaska’s Christmas gift to the nation.