On a very cold November morning and with a light snow falling, nearly 100 people, at least half of them U.S. Forest Service personnel, gathered in Randolph County at the Laurel Fork Campground in the Greenbrier Ranger District of the Monongahela National Forest to watch as the 2023 U.S. Capitol Christmas tree was harvested. Known as the “People’s Tree,” the 65-foot-tall Norway Spruce is destined to sit on the west lawn of the White House during this holiday season.
“They aged the tree at probably between 35 and 40 years old, so it’s relatively young,” forest service staff officer for natural resources Kirk Pieler said.
“And it was planted about the same time as the first Capitol Christmas tree was harvested in the same county, relatively close to here on the Greenbrier Ranger District.”
After a photo op with the tree and all the forest personnel, one of the members climbed near the top of the tree to attach a line from one of two large cranes onsite. Once that was secured, it was time to cut the tree. Amy Albright, U.S. Capitol Tree Project Manager, introduced the two men selected for the honor.
“We’re going to have a two-person team using a cross-cut saw this year,” she said. “So Ron Polgar is a long time employee on the Monongahela National Forest; he is an expert botanist and he has taught and certified many sawyers here on the Monongahela.”
“Our second sawyer is Arden Cogar, Jr. He is an attorney here in West Virginia and a world champion lumberjack from a family whose history is deeply rooted in the timber industry. His father harvested the 1976 tree, so passing it down in the family.”
Once they were suited up, it took them a very short time to cut through the large trunk of the tree which seemed to float in the air as it was separated from the stump. Another tether line from the second crane was attached to the trunk so the tree could be turned horizontally in preparation for placing on the truck bed that will take it to Washington, D.C.
Monongahela National Forest Supervisor Shawn Cochran thanked all those who attended the harvest, as well as Senator’s Joe Man-chin and Shelly Moore-Capito for their support of the program and the forest. Cochran also had thanks for the Shawnee Tribe, who have partnered with the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree for decades.
“I also want to thank the Shawnee Tribe who has provided support through naming the tree “wa’feem’tekwi” which means ‘bright tree’ in the Shawnee language,” Cochran said. “They also sent handmade ornaments for the tree and contributed to the interpretive exhibit that will go with the tree. Once the tree has completed its mission, the tree’s wood will be milled and provided back to the tribe to be used on their ceremonial grounds in White Oak, Oklahoma.”
Erin Paden, from the Shawnee Tribe was also on hand to witness the harvest.
Ethan Reese, a fourth grade student at Beverly Elementary school and winner of the 2023 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Essay contest will have the honor of throwing the switch to light the tree to officially kick off the holiday season in Washington.