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Massive Washington state spruce heading to U.S. Capitol as official Christmas tree

The search for the perfect Christmas tree to stand outside the U.S. Capitol Building this year has ended in Eastern Washington, where a massive spruce came down Friday and began its long journey to the other Washington.

The 88-foot Englemann spruce growing in the Colville National Forest north of Spokane was chosen from among dozens of nominees from around the country, says Franklin Pemberton, forest spokesman.

“We had to have ten high-quality candidates to even get to the point of being considered,” he says.

The tree was ultimately picked by Ted Bechtol, Superintendent of grounds at the U.S. Capitol, who visited a number of forests before settling on the spruce.

Bechtol used much of the same criteria we all do when picking the perfect tree.

“Size, shape, the symmetrical nature of the tree, and health and vigor of tree. It has to have that classic Christmas tree look,” Pemberton says.

Just as important, they had to be able to get it down and out of the forest.

It’s a complicated process. Crews brought in two huge cranes – one to suspend the tree and another for the lumberjacks who’ll cut it. Once the sawyers cut through most of it, the second crane gently twists the tree until it breaks through from its base.

“And then it’ll gently rotate that tree and lay it down on the 103-foot trailer parked next to it, just like putting a baby to bed,” Pemberton says.

They had to be gentle so none of the branches broke off, ruining its symmetry.

Now the tree will travel across Washington state and on to a month-long, nation-wide tour with over a dozen stops to show it off.

The tree will ultimately be installed in front of the Capitol building and decorated with thousands of ornaments, many made by children from Washington state. It will be lit at a ceremony in early December.

Along with getting the tree to Washington, D.C., another big challenge is keeping it healthy. Much like our own trees, it has to be kept in water, Pemberton says. The tree is outfitted with a special bladder that provides the 30-60 gallons a day it’ll drink over the next two months.

Once the holidays are over, the tree will be chipped and mulched into the Capitol grounds.

“We’re really proud. It’ll help serve as a beautification of the Capitol grounds before and after,” Pemberton says.

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