A towering Engelmann spruce came alive Wednesday night, lighting up the U.S. Capitol after traveling from Colorado to the nation’s capital to become this year’s Capitol Christmas Tree.
The lighting ceremony was the culmination of a long journey that began with the 82-year-old tree being harvested Nov. 5 near Montrose deep within the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests.
The tree then crossed the country, stopping throughout Colorado and in other states along the way before arriving in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 20, where it was draped in multicolored lights and adorned with thousands of ornaments that, like the tree, came from Colorado.
Before Wednesday’s ceremony, members of Colorado’s congressional delegation were on hand at the ceremony to offer remarks.
“Colorado is honored to furnish this year’s Capitol Christmas Tree,” Bennet said, standing alongside fellow Sen. Cory Gardner and U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette, Joe Neguse, Ed Perlmutter and Jason Crow. “As this sapling grew year after year ... so too did America. ... I hope it will remind us that whatever challenges our times may bring, like this tree, our country can grow stronger.”
Some of the nation’s challenges were on display at the ceremony, as mask-clad attendees stood 6 feet apart and a man sanitized the lectern after each speaker.
But despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the record-breaking forest fire season in Colorado and several other states, the tree now stands tall in its new home on the Capitol’s west lawn.
“On behalf of our state, we’re grateful to provide this symbol of hope and unity in this uncertain time,” Bennet said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi then took the lectern, thanked Colorado and lit the tree to a smattering of applause from the pandemic-limited crowd.
The Capitol Christmas Tree is selected yearly from one of the nation’s national forests; last year’s came from the Carson National Forest in northeastern New Mexico. This year was the fourth time the tree came from Colorado since a tree was first lit at the Capitol in 1964.
Choosing the perfect tree from the vast swathes of national forest across the Western Slope was a long process. Colorado Public Radio highlighted Todd Gardiner, a U.S. Forest Service silviculturist who spent nearly a year scouring the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests on the hunt for the perfect tree.
After representatives of the Architect of the Capitol selected the tree from among the U.S. Forest Service-selected candidates, the tree was cut down in a virtual ceremony. It then was loaded onto a semitrailer to begin its long cross-country journey.
The mammoth spruce spent several days traveling through Colorado, passing small Western Slope towns like Ouray and Delta as well as the population centers of Grand Junction and Denver. It then made its way eastward, stopping in North Carolina and Maryland before reaching its final destination in downtown Washington, D.C.
“Colorado is so happy to provide that tree,” DeGette said, standing in front of the soon-to-be-illuminated piece of Colorado. “That can help bring the light that can light us into the new year, into a new time of hope.”
John Purcell is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and a student at American University in Washington, D.C.