The Capitol Christmas Tree arrived in Washington on Monday after a cross-country trek from Washington state and, in keeping with the austerity that's constraining federal spending, the trek didn't cost taxpayers a penny.
All costs for the 88-foot Englemann spruce and its 5,000-mile journey from Colville National Forest were paid for with about $400,000 in cash and in-kind donations raised by Choose Outdoors, a nonprofit group that collected donations from the private sector.
At the tree's stops across the country, many people asked what the tree was costing them or which branch of the government was covering the costs, said Jeff Olson, president of the organization that promotes outdoor recreation and active lifestyles.
"It's great when you hear that and you're able to respond that this is paid for by the private sector," he said.
The tradition of a Christmas tree at the Capitol dates back to 1964, when a 24-foot Douglas fir tree was planted on the West Lawn of the Capitol. That tree was damaged by a storm in 1968 and had to be removed. The U.S. Forest Service has selected a national forest to provide the tree every year, trying to rotate around the country, since 1970. This year's is the second Capitol Christmas tree from Washington.
Colville National Forest asked employees to comb through the 1.1 million acres of land in search of the perfect Christmas tree for the Capitol. About 70 trees that fit the criteria — having a classic Christmas tree shape and being between 65 and 90 feet tall — were nominated by employees, said Robert Sanchez, district ranger at the forest in northeastern Washington.
The search prompted some friendly competition between employees, he said.
"When we talked to our employees about what it would mean to find the Capitol Christmas Tree, there were some discussions amongst employees that they're really striving to be that person," Mr. Sanchez said.
Mr. Sanchez was part of the team that narrowed the choices down to 10 finalists. Then, Ted Bechtol, superintendent of the U.S. Capitol grounds, made the final pick.
"I think it did stand out from the other trees by just being a more formal shape that I'm looking for," Mr. Bechtol said. "Uniformity is really important, that nice conical shape and it really does need to look good 360 degrees."
Mr. Bechtol will oversee efforts over the next week to get the tree ready for the official lighting ceremony Dec. 3. Workers will begin stringing lights Tuesday and hanging thousands of ornaments made by Washington state residents Wednesday, he said.
"Having done this for eight years, I always love seeing the ornaments. School kids make them and some of them are just really crafty," he said.
This year's theme is "Sharing Washington's Good Nature," according to the tree's official website. Ornaments are supposed to depict "the natural resources, scenic beauty and amazing people in the state."
House Speaker John A. Boehner will light the tree at 5 p.m. Dec. 3. Gates will open at 4 p.m. and tickets are not required for the lighting, which also can be viewed online at speaker.gov/live.
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