A Capitol Christmas Tree

The Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony,
The Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, November 2013, Washington, D.C. Photo: USFS.

Since 1964, a special tree has been placed on the US Capitol lawn to mark the holidays. The USDA Forest Service has provided this “Peoples Tree” since 1969. The name is especially fitting, since the USDA was originally called “The Peoples’ Department.”

This year’s Capitol Christmas Tree was harvested from the Colville National Forest. A majestic 88-foot tall Engelmann spruce growing on the Newport-Sullivan Lake Ranger District in Pend Oreille County was selected. Sixty smaller, indoor trees were also shipped from Washington State. Twenty of those indoor trees came from Alan and Ruby Walker’s tree farm in Ferry County. The Walkers have participated with Natural Resources Conservation Service for several years in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Stewardship Program.

More than five thousand ornaments are needed to decorate these trees. Starting in April, Patrice Beckwith, resource conservationist in the NRCS Republic field office, and Mary Rourke, ornament coordinator from Republic Forest Service Ranger District, started brainstorming ornament-making opportunities.

package ornaments for the tree
Patrice Beckwith, volunteering to package ornaments for the tree at the NRCS Washington office. Photo: NRCS-WA Employee Newsletter.

This year’s ornaments were designed to reflect the theme “Sharing Washington’s Good Nature,” which highlights the natural resources, scenic beauty and people in the state of Washington. The use of recycled and natural materials that represented our state was encouraged.

Mary and Patrice began the project by working with school children at their usual local conservation education venues. They made ornaments by stenciling Mount St. Helen’s ash on scrap wood cedar shingles. The two also worked with children at the Colville Tribes’ Earth Day celebration, at Ferry County Conservation Day and fairs, and at the Washington State University Teen Conference in Pullman, Washington. In addition, handcrafted ornaments from youth across the state of Washington were shipped to Republic to be re-packaged. These ornaments were used on both the outdoor tree and the indoor trees that grace the halls and offices across Washington, DC, including the offices of the Chief of the NRCS, our US Senators Cantwell and Murray, and all 10 of the US State Representatives serving Washington State. Mary and Patrice worked with several volunteer groups such as the local 4-H clubs, the High School National Honor Society and the Republic Business and Professional Women.

Preparing the Capitol Christmas tree for a safe harvest.
Jim Beckwith and Curlew Job Corps Forestry Students preparing the Capitol Christmas tree for a safe harvest. Photo: NRCS-WA Employee Newsletter.

Blessing the Tree

On November 1, a ceremony took place at the site of the Capitol Tree. The Kalispel and the Snoqualmie Tribes blessed the forest site of the tree and celebrated with a drum circle. State and local officials, tribal leaders and event organizers expressed the pride they felt at the honor of being chosen to provide this tree. Jim Beckwith and his Curlew Job Corps forestry students climbed the tree to secure strapping that two cranes used to gingerly lift the massive tree and place it gently into the bed of a semi-truck. From there, the tree was prepared and packaged for travel around Washington State, visiting several local towns before making the cross country trek to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

 Lighting Ceremony

Six-year-old Giovanni Gaynor from Colville, Washington, was the child whose name was drawn lottery-style to light the US Capitol Christmas Tree with Speaker of the House, John Boehner. The ceremony took place on the lawn of the Capitol on December 3, 2013.

By Patrice Beckwith, NRCS Resource Conservationist, Republic