Nation's Christmas Tree Plucked From Colorado

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This year's Capitol Christmas Tree comes from White River National Forest in Northwest Colorado. The spruce is more than 70 feet tall. i i

This year's Capitol Christmas Tree comes from White River National Forest in Northwest Colorado. The spruce is more than 70 feet tall. Luke Runyon for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Luke Runyon for NPR
This year's Capitol Christmas Tree comes from White River National Forest in Northwest Colorado. The spruce is more than 70 feet tall.

This year's Capitol Christmas Tree comes from White River National Forest in Northwest Colorado. The spruce is more than 70 feet tall.

Luke Runyon for NPR

The undeniable smell of fresh-cut spruce filled the air Friday morning as crews crowded around the trunk of this year's Capitol Christmas Tree, prepping it for departure to Washington, D.C.

The task of finding this year's tree was left largely up to one man: Scott Fitzwilliams, forest supervisor for the White River National Forest in Colorado. In picking the tree, Fitzwilliams was asked to follow a few guidelines.

"It has to be the right size; it can't be too tall, too big," he says. "And what they look for is the fullness. So it looks like a giant version of the Christmas tree you have in your house."

As a chainsaw gnawed at the trunk of the tree Friday, sawdust piled up on the forest floor. The workers prevented the tree from falling over to protect the boughs. When the chainsaw stopped, they brought the crane into position.

As they got ready to hoist the spruce over a small cabin and place it onto a flatbed truck, a man in a fluorescent vest climbed the tree to place a sling around it to lift it up.

Santa Claus supervises as crews cut down the tree. To prevent the tree from falling over, the workers put a sling around it, then hoist it onto a flatbed truck. i i

Santa Claus supervises as crews cut down the tree. To prevent the tree from falling over, the workers put a sling around it, then hoist it onto a flatbed truck. Luke Runyon for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Luke Runyon for NPR
Santa Claus supervises as crews cut down the tree. To prevent the tree from falling over, the workers put a sling around it, then hoist it onto a flatbed truck.

Santa Claus supervises as crews cut down the tree. To prevent the tree from falling over, the workers put a sling around it, then hoist it onto a flatbed truck.

Luke Runyon for NPR

The crowd, mostly from the nearby town of Meeker, was electric. When the tree began to rise, cameras captured the moment. The crane gently lowered the tree onto the truck that will take it across the country.

The chosen tree, a towering 70-foot-tall, dark-green spruce, has started its journey. Along the way to the nation's capital, it will stop in 10 states.

The tradition of the Capitol Christmas Tree began in the 1970s. The federal government chooses a particular national forest, and then the forest supervisor picks a few candidate trees. The final selection is then cut down and hauled to D.C.

Gerald Morris is one of the drivers this year. When he found out the tree was coming from the White River National Forest, he decided to put his commercial drivers license to use.

"It's a great thing to be involved in such a project. And everybody gets to see something they'll probably never see again," he says.

The tree is scheduled to be lit the first week of December.

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