The ‘People’s Tree’ Makes Cross-country Journey From Oregon to Washington, D.C.

By Lee Juillerat

U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree 2018. Willamette National Forest, Oregon.A piece of Oregon will light up Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., during the holidays when, for only the second time ever, the Capitol Christmas Tree will be from Oregon.

The theme for the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree is “Find Your Trail!” in recognition of two 2018 anniversaries: the 50th anniversary of the National Trails System Act and the 175th commemoration of the Oregon Trail.

The 80-foot tall tree from the Sweet Home Ranger District of the Willamette National Forest will make a 3,000-mile cross country trek to the Capitol’s west lawn, where lighting ceremonies will be held in early December. The selected tree is unique. For the first time ever, it is a noble fir.

Selecting the Tree

After a lengthy selection process that included suggestions from the public, a Willamette “tree team,” which included foresters and a botanist, narrowed the field of candidate trees to five. The final decision was made during an August visit by Jim Kaufmann, Director of the Capitol Grounds and Arboretum, who is responsible for operations and care of the Capitol and grounds.

The tree was evaluated for a variety of desired characteristics, including being 65 to 85 feet tall, having a straight stem, uniform branching, a perfectly conical shape, natural density and rich green color. The tree candidates included both Douglas and Noble firs, the two most iconic conifer species in both the Willamette and Oregon. Other factors included the tree’s accessibility by crane and semitruck when it’s cut.

“It really was like finding a needle in a haystack,” said Joanie Schmidgall, who’s handling publicity for the Willamette National Forest.

“It ended up being a great tree,” says Nikki Swenson, the Sweet Home District Ranger, whose persistent lobbying is credited with having a tree from her ranger district selected. “This is the ‘People’s Tree.’”

This national honor is meaningful for Sweet Home and the entire state of Oregon. Upwards of 70 smaller companion trees will also be sent from the Willamette for government buildings and public spaces in Washington, D.C. Oregonians have created nearly 2,000 large, weatherproof handmade ornaments for the Capitol Christmas Tree and 10,000 smaller handmade ornaments for the companion trees.

On Friday, November 2, the tree will be cut and prepared for its journey that will follow a reverse path of the Oregon Trail. After festivities in Sweet Home on November 9, the tree will continue its journey with stops along the way for more community celebrations including in Springfield, McKenzie Bridge and Oakridge.

See the Tree

Attendees will have the chance to sign banners on the sides of the truck to wish the tree well, learn more about the Willamette National Forest, purchase U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree merchandise, and more.

  • Saturday, November 10, 4 to 5:30 p.m., Cabela’s, 2800 Gateway Street, Springfield.
  • Sunday, November 11, 10:30 to 11:30 a.m., Tokatee Golf Club, Rainbow.
  • Sunday, November 11, 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., Oakridge, in front of the post office.

The Oakridge celebration includes Boy Scouts flag ceremony, music performance by OHS choir and band, free cookies, hot cocoa and coffee, special seating for veterans, robotics display and more.

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