SWEET HOME TO DC: The 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree begins its journey

A tractor trailer hauls a large evergreen tree on a narrow forest highway

Sweet Home to DC: The 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree journey

A Modern Day Adventure on the Historic Oregon Trail

Each year, a National Forest provides the tree that lights up the National Mall from the U.S. Capitol lawn in Washington D.C. This year’s tree is travelling from the Willamette National Forest in central Oregon to the nation’s capital, a month-long journey.

The forest’s Sweet Home Ranger District hosted this year’s search for “The People’s Tree,” District Ranger Nikki Swanson is accompanying the tree on it’s journey across the U.S.

Because 2018 is also the 50th year of the National Trails Act, the route will follow a reverse version of the Oregon Trail, a federally-recognized National Historic Trail. She’ll be sharing her notes from the trail on the Your Northwest Forests blog.

You can find all of our Capitol Christmas Tree coverage at: https://yournorthwestforests.org/category/capitol-christmas-tree/.

November 7nd , 2018
Sweet Home, Ore.

Preparing for the Big Journey

All big journeys begin with much preparation. Pioneer’s packed covered wagons to journey west via wagon train along the Oregon Trail to make a new life in Oregon. The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree is preparing for its journey from Sweet Home, Oregon to our Nation’s Capitol in Washington, D.C. following the same route that many of our ancestors took, only in reverse.  There are so many things that had to be done before the big day on the Willamette National Forest.  The tree needed to be found, cut, transported into the City of Sweet Home, and wrapped before it could even begin its journey.  It has taken a year of planning to get to this point, but compared to the planning and preparation of the pioneers 175 years ago, our project is easy.

A crew stands ready to fell the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree

A crew stands ready to fell the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree, which was harvested from Sweet Home Ranger District on the Willamette National Forest in Oregon. Photo by James Edward Mills of The Joy Trip Project (Nov. 2, 2018).

The Willamette National Forest was selected to provide to 2018 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree because the climate and growing conditions on the west side of the Cascade Mountains lends itself to perfect conditions for growing trees of all kinds, including Christmas trees of ALL sizes. It took a long time to find the perfect Christmas Tree.  I don’t know about your family, but it takes a long time for my family to find our Christmas Tree. There are always lots of opinions about what makes the perfect tree and not everyone always agrees.  It’s like a beauty contest for trees. Only the best will do to adorn the west lawn of our Nation’s Capitol. Of the thousands of trees that we looked at, this one was by far the most beautiful.  It is 80 feet tall with a perfect shape looking lovely from all sides.  The blue green needles seem to shimmer in the mist turning upwards slightly towards the sky, a classic noble fir tree.

Panels for constructing a plywood and Plexiglas box stand ready to be assembled around the the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree.

Panels for constructing a plywood and Plexiglas box stand ready to be assembled around the the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree. It took about a week to prepare the tree for its cross-country journey. USDA Forest Service photo by Joanie Schmidgall (Nov. 4, 2018)

Cutting the tree was the next step.  The weather on the cutting day was rather typical for Oregon: Wet. VERY wet. But I suppose that is the price of having such lovely green trees. It took a village of partners and friends to cut the tree without a single limb touching the ground. A crane was attached to the top of the tree and when the tree was cut it hung there suspended and swaying slightly.  A firefighter from the Willamette National Forest was the person who cut the tree.  He has lots of experience using a chainsaw and that was a good thing with so many people watching.  He didn’t seem nervous at all.  I would have been! Once the tree was cut, it was gently placed on special cradles on the back of the truck designed to support the tree and keep the branches from being crushed or broken.

The tree was located in the middle of the woods. Getting the tree eight miles down a narrow, windy, gravel road was a bit tricky. The truck and trailer are 102 feet long! It took a special piece of equipment to pick up the back end of the trailer and move it around each corner. The narrow bridges were tricky too, but thanks to the great skill of the truck driver, the tree made it safely to Highway 20.  Because the truck and trailer are so long and would not be able to make it around all of the corners and still safely in its lane, the highway had to be closed.  Saturday, the tree pulled into Sweet Home to the cheers of the people lucky enough to see it before it was boxed up for the big journey.


The 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree is being transported in a special shipping container constructed with Plexiglas panels on the sides, so visitors can catch a “sneak peak” of the tree at events celebrating its journey from the Sweet Home Ranger District on the Willamette National Forest in Oregon to Washington D.C. USDA Forest Service photo by Joanie Schmidgall. (Nov. 5, 2018)

The next order of business was wrapping the tree.  The tree needs to be boxed for its 3,000 mile journey to protect it from the weather.  A local mill was kind enough to donate a dry warehouse for the wrapping. A large “bladder bag” was placed at the trunk of the tree so that it has water along the way.  It even has a heater so that it does not freeze. Bright red panels were placed on the truck one by one until the entire tree was boxed up.  Plexiglas panels at the back end of the truck allow people to see the top twenty feet of the beautiful Oregon noble fir tree.  The visible part is decorated with lights and a sample of the 10,000 ornaments hand made by the people of Oregon to decorate the tree in Washington D.C.

A bladder bag is fitted at the base of the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree to help keep the tree hydrated during its cross-country journey

This “bladder bag” will be filled with water help keep the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree fresh-looking and green during it’s month-long journey to Washington D.C. You can cut your own Christmas tree on National Forests! Contact a Visitor Center or Ranger Station for your local forest to learn more about the agency’s Christmas Tree permit program. Permits cost $5; trailhead, day-use, or Sno-Park permits may also be required at some locations. A Christmas Tree cutting permit is available at no cost to 4th graders who’ve requested their free, interagency public lands access pass through the Every Kid in a Park program – for details, visit https://everykidinapark.gov/USDA Forest Service photo by Joanie Schmidgall (Nov. 5, 2018)

Banners are placed on the sides of the truck thanking all of the people and businesses that have helped with the U.S. Capitol Christmas tree.  None of this would have been possible without the help of SO MANY people in Oregon and across the Nation.  The unity and helpfulness I have seen bring tears of joy and gratitude to my eyes. From many of the stories I have read, the Oregon pioneers had a similar experience along the Oregon Trail with strangers helping strangers and becoming friends along the way.  As we travel across the Country there will be many stops so that people can sign the banners, a giant card to accompany this gift from the people of Oregon to the people of the United States of America. I hope to see many of you again, in person, along the Oregon Trail at the numerous public events along the way!

The adventure begins Friday, Nov. 9. There are many ways to virtually join the tour: follow our journey at TrackTheTree.com for near-real time tracking of our precious cargo, check out this daily travel blog, learn more about the places we’re visiting on the Forest Service story map, and visit the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree website http://www.capitolchristmastree.com/ and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Questions can be emailed to capitolchristmastree2018@gmail.com, and I will answer them as soon as I can.

Nikki Swanson
District Ranger, Sweet Home Ranger District
Willamette National Forest

District Ranger Nikki Swanson, Sweet Home Ranger District.

District Ranger Nikki Swanson, Sweet Home Ranger District, Willamette National Forest, delivers remarks at the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree cutting Nov. 2, 2018. Photo by James Edward Mills of The Joy Trip Project.

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