Way back in July, Capitol Grounds Superintendent Ted Bechtol traveled to the Payette National Forest in Idaho to select the perfect Christmas tree for the Capitol building’s front lawn. There, he chose an 80-foot Engelmann spruce from among a dozen candidates nominated by forest rangers.
“I’m looking for a conical Christmas tree shape, a rich color, dense branching and a nice, straight stem,” he says. “Our tree goes in an open lawn in front of the Capitol. It can be seen from 360 degrees. It’s not like it’s Aunt Matilda’s tree where you can have the bad side face the corner.”
The Capitol Christmas Tree doesn’t always come from Idaho. Last year’s tree traveled a record-breaking 3,411 miles from Alaska, while the 2004 tree was trucked a measly 200 miles from central Virginia. National forests across the country vie for the chance to provide the tree each year. The Forest Service picks the winning forest, and Bechtol chooses the lucky tree. Then, rangers hold celebrations and fundraisers to pay for its transportation to D.C.
“Sometimes they have to build roads to get to the tree, which is part of the reason we pick it out so early,” Bechtol says.
This year’s tree arrived last week on a flatbed truck. Bechtol’s staff lowered it into a hole on the Capitol lawn and poured in concrete to anchor it in place. Now they are hanging the tree with lights and ornaments. Anyone can attend the tree’s official lighting at 5 p.m. today, or you can stop by and see it lit up every night until New Year’s. Sometime between Jan. 1 and Inauguration Day, the tree will be composted.
Though Bechtol has been the Capitol’s official Christmas tree selector for 12 years, he’s not in charge of picking one for his own house. He likes a tall, thin tree, but his wife and two daughters go for plumper specimens.
“The girls team up against me, and I get outvoted,” he says.
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