SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Capitol Christmas tree has started its journey from the White River National Forest in Northwest Colorado to Washington, D.C. The tree will stop in 10 states before finding its new home on Capitol Hill. Aspen Public Radio's Luke Runyon was in the forest yesterday and he watched the tree come down.

LUKE RUNYON, BYLINE: The task of finding this year's Capitol Christmas tree was left largely up to this guy.

SCOTT FITZWILLIAMS: I'm Scott Fitzwilliams, forest supervisor of the White River National Forest.

RUNYON: We're standing next to a dark green spruce. It towers over us at more than 70 feet. In picking the tree, the folks at the Capitol asked Fitzwilliams to follow a few guidelines.

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

RUNYON: The tradition began in the 1970s. The Federal government chooses a particular National Forest, then the forest supervisor picks a few candidate trees. The final selection is then cut down and hauled to Washington, D.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF HAMMERING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Hammering nails into the Capitol Christmas tree.

RUNYON: By mid-morning, crew members crowd around the trunk, prepping it for departure. Then, the chainsaw.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHAINSAW)

RUNYON: Sawdust starts to pile up on the forest floor. The undeniable smell of fresh cut spruce fills the air. The workers don't let it fall over. That would damage the boughs. When the chainsaw stops, they lower a crane into position.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Ready. I'm coming down that front side.

RUNYON: I'm standing at the base of the tree and they're just about to hoist it over this small cabin and place it onto a flatbed truck. There's a man who has climbed into the tree wearing a fluorescent vest and he's trying to get this sling to go around the tree so they can lift it up.

The crowd here is electric. Most are from the nearby town of Meeker. When the tree begins to rise, cameras capture the moment.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: I didn't make it over (unintelligible).

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Oh, there is goes.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: There it goes.

(LAUGHTER)

RUNYON: The crane gently lowers the tree onto a truck - the same truck that will take it across the country. One of the drivers is nearby resident Gerald Morris.

GERALD MORRIS: It's a great day, isn't it?

RUNYON: When he found out the tree was coming from the White River National Forest, he decided to put his commercial driver's license to use.

MORRIS: It's a great thing to be involved in such a project. And everybody gets to see something they'll probably never see again.

RUNYON: The tree's scheduled to be lit the first week of December.

For NPR News, I'm Luke Runyon in Aspen, Colorado.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OH, CHRISTMAS TREE")

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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