On a cold afternoon in late October, about 500 people, including local area third graders who had made ornaments for it, gathered to witness the cutting of the 88-foot, 13,000-pound 2014 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree on the Chippewa National Forest in north central Minnesota.
To help stay warm and nourished, attendees were offered hot chocolate or coffee, a wild rice dish, fruit, sandwich wraps and cookies, all courtesy of the Leech Land Band of Ojibwe. The official festivities began with Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Spiritual Advisor Larry Aitken blessing the Tree, distinguished guests sharing their congratulations, and poignant drumming performances by two groups of tribal youth; one group was accompanied by young tribal dancers in full regalia.
It was a memorable sight as Minnesota logger of the year Jim Scheff cut the massive white spruce (Picea glauca) as two large cranes kept the tree suspended in the air, while about ten extra feet from the trunk were removed. Afterward, the tree was gently placed upon custom made wooden cradles of an 85-foot long semi-trailer. The tree trunk excess and stump will be used to make commemorative “tree cookies.”
The excited crowd, gathered around the honored white spruce, included U.S. Sen. Klobuchar, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, other state and local government representatives, members of the Leech Lake Band of the Ojibwe, representatives of Scheff Logging and Trucking named Minnesota’s “Logger of the Year,” Forest Service leadership, Smokey Bear, and friends and family from surrounding communities.
The first stop on the Tree’s 2,000-mile journey to Washington, D.C. is Bemidji State University where it will be wrapped and prepared for the long haul. The Tree’s first public stop will be at Itasca State Park, where it will receive a ceremonial watering from the headwaters of the Mississippi River. The Tree is scheduled to depart Andrews Air Force Base on November 21 for the U.S. Capitol, but it will visit more than 30 communities in seven states along the way.
Follow the journey of the 2014 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree online to find out how close the tree will be to your neighborhood. The trek will weave through Minnesota before crossing into Wisconsin with stops at the Forest Service’s Forest Products Lab in Madison, and Cathedral Square Park in Milwaukee. The Tree will then head to northern Illinois before veering further north to East Lansing, Dearborn, and Detroit, Michigan and south again to Cleveland, Chillicothe, and Marietta, Ohio, and then West Virginia, before arriving at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.
At the air base, the Tree will lose the protective cover that has sheltered it from the elements on its cross country journey and will be prepared for the final leg of the journey to the U.S. Capitol.
Every year the Forest Service plays an integral role in providing the “People’s Tree,” named such because it comes from public land and the Tree’s annual trip is supported by many local communities along the way. The cost of moving the Tree, providing ornaments and hosting various events is covered by a nonprofit organization dedicated to the event. Forest Service employees provide support as part of their duties. This year, the Forest Service partnered with the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and Choose Outdoors to make this hugely coordinated effort a success.