WASHINGTON – After finishing a 33-city tour of Virginia on a flatbed truck,this year's Capitol Christmas tree made its final stop Monday on the Capitol's west lawn.
The 70-foot red spruce – the first Capitol tree from Virginia – came from the George Washington National Forest. The tree's theme,“Birthplace of Presidents,” commemorates the eight presidents born in Virginia,more than any other state.
Patrick Sheridan,the U.S. Forest Service ranger who oversees the area where the tree was cut,said he was honored to help pick out the tree and go on tour with it.
“People in the state are very interested and extremely glad that Virginia finally got to provide the tree,” Sheridan said.
The 5,500-pound tree drank 20 to 25 gallons of water per day through a bladder system made from tire inner tubes. The tree took its last drink Monday before a crane took it off the truck and stood it up in concrete in a 5-foot hole.
Matthew Evans,Capitol landscape architect,has the final say on which tree is chosen each year. All trees come from national forests.
Evans said he looks for a “healthy looking” tree that is fully branched and that has enough room between its branches for Christmas ornaments to be visible.
“The tree is out in the open,” he said,“so it's not like a tree with one bad side that you might put in the corner of a room.”
Just to make sure,however,extra branches were cut from other trees and can be attached to the tree if necessary.
Red spruces are indigenous to Virginia but only in higher elevations that do not get as hot as other parts of the state,Evans said. Red spruce is found more abundantly farther north,so this tree was a lucky find.
The search for this year's tree started in November 2003,and Sheridan narrowed the count to eight red spruces in May. On Nov. 2 – which had nothing to do with Election Day,Sheridan said – the tree was cut and removed from the forest by helicopter.
The tree-lighting ceremony will be Dec. 9,one week after President Bush lights the outdoor tree near the White House. Sheridan said the lighting would be the “big exclamation point on the whole trip.”