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Capitol tree to be chosen in summer

November 25, 2019
In The News

Somewhere across the nearly 3 million acres that make up the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests, a tall, stately tree is growing that a year from now will decorate the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building.

Just which tree in that sprawling region will receive the honor of being the Capitol Christmas tree is a decision that the Capitol office architect will make next summer, based on about 15 to 20 candidate trees GMUG officials will recommend, the U.S. Forest Service said Friday.

Dana Gardunio, district ranger for the Ouray Ranger District, who is heading up the project for the Forest Service, said in an interview that GMUG officials have known for a few months now that the tree will come from within its jurisdiction. This summer they came up with some preliminary candidate trees scattered generally throughout the GMUG, a list they will winnow down to a final list. The Capitol architect will visit the GMUG to look at and choose from the final candidates.

Grand Mesa "absolutely" could end up being the source of the selected tree, in part because of its good road access, Gardunio said. Two cranes need to be able to get to the tree so it can be carefully lowered to the ground and onto a truck when it is cut down late next year before being trucked to Washington, D.C.

Gardunio said the Uncompahgre Plateau also is in the mix of potential locations on the GMUG that the tree could come from.

The ideal tree will be about 65 to 80 feet high, with a uniform appearance and not having big gaps in it, Gardunio said. She said it likely will be a blue spruce.

"The Capitol Christmas tree is really a great honor for any forest to get to have," Gardunio said Friday morning in a press conference in Delta. A video of the event can be found on GMUG's Facebook page.

Cindy Dozier, president of Club 20, told those in attendance, "We're excited that the national Christmas tree will come from an area that we all love next year. It's a privilege to be a part of something that is truly bigger than all of us. Whichever part of our region, whichever county, whichever tree, we all get to share in this honor together."

Some 70 smaller "companion" trees to the Capitol tree also will be heading next year to Washington for use at a number of federal buildings, although Gardunio said she didn't know if all 70 will come from the GMUG.

Part of the undertaking will involve making nearly 10,000 ornaments to go on the trees, something Gardunio said schools, community groups and others will have a hand in creating. Some of the ornaments are expected to depict skiing, mining and other things representative of Colorado.

The nonprofit Choose Outdoors is a primary partner in the project, and will be working to involve other partners in everything from making the ornaments to trucking the trees to Washington.

"We'll be working to develop some great celebrations around this event and to create goodwill and friendships, the things that Coloradoans see as being very central to our lifestyle," Marti Whitmore of Choose Outdoors said.

This is the fourth Capitol Christmas tree to come from Colorado, in a program dating back to the 1960s. The 2012 tree came from the White River National Forest east of Meeker.

This year's tree is coming from the Carson National Forest in New Mexico, and currently is on a cross-country tour on its way to Washington.

Gardunio said the source location of the Capitol tree rotates among the Forest Service's regions from year to year, and next year is the turn for Region 2, which includes Colorado. The regional forester decides which forest in a region provides the tree.

"We made our pitch to have it come from our forest and we were lucky to be selected," Gardunio said.

Once the tree is decided on, the Forest Service will give a more localized description of where it is coming from, but likely not immediately give its exact location as a security measure. A backup tree also will be selected, probably from elsewhere on the GMUG, just in case the selected tree falls victim to something such as a windstorm or insect infestation.

The tree will be cut during a public ceremony before starting on a multistop tour through Colorado and other states to Washington. Gardunio said the tree will be officially lit by the speaker of the House of Representatives.

Gardunio said there may be an essay-writing contest for schoolchildren, with the opportunity for the winner to read the essay at the lighting ceremony.

The tree also will be feted elsewhere in Washington at events including receptions at the National Press Club, with the agriculture secretary, and at the Library of Congress and the U.S. Botanical Garden.

Gardunio said Colorado businesses will have opportunities to be involved with the tree, such as restaurants and wineries being able to provide a taste of the state at events in Washington.

GMUG Supervisor Chad Stewart said Friday, "I encourage all Coloradans to engage in this and to help us celebrate this great event."

Gov. Jared Polis said in a news release, "Coloradans cherish our public lands, forests and outdoor spaces, and we're excited to announce that one of our magnificent trees is headed to Washington to help our nation celebrate the holidays. Colorado's spirit and beauty will be on full display, and we're proud to introduce our country to a reminder of the many things our Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison national forests offer."

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, said in a statement, "The People's Tree, selected from one of the most naturally beautiful places in the country, will be enjoyed by thousands of people who visit (Washington) next year. I look forward to seeing the tree from Colorado's Third Congressional District on the west lawn of the Capitol Building again."

The 2012 tree also came from his district.

At Friday's news conference, Betsy Bair, regional director for U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, playfully invoked the writings of Dr. Seuss, comparing Coloradans' love of Christmas to that of the Whos down in Whoville from the classic "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!".

"Like the Whos, Coloradans know that Christmas doesn't come from a store, but it comes from our national forests with Christmas trees galore," Bair said.