US Capitol Christmas Tree News

Great ways to get involved in 2017

Thursday, March 02, 2017


The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree program is made possible thanks to companies large and small as well as volunteers locally and across America, who provide vital support of time and resources. Here are a few ways to get involved in 2017.

The U.S. Capitol Christmas program would not be possible without the generous support of sponsors and partners providing both cash and in-kind contributions, both large and small. For more information, please contact Bruce Ward, President of Choose Outdoors at

We’re on the hunt for the perfect tree to represent our great state of Montana. The tree needs to come from the Kootenai National Forest, be between 60 and 85 feet in height, a species representative of Montana, and accessible for a crane and semi-truck to remove the tree. If you have a suggestion, please contact Sandi Mason with the Kootenai National Forest at

The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree program is a year-long celebration. Local communities are invited to get creative and to host holiday-themed events throughout the year, such as ornament making gatherings, fundraiser to help send youth to the Capitol to take part in the lighting celebration in December, Christmas in July picnic, ugly sweater party at a local brewery and more. Ideas welcome!

Local community events will be planned throughout Montana in November beginning with the tree cutting followed by an in-state tour. Once the tour schedule is announced, communities will be invited to help plan local celebrations.

Handmade ornaments representing the state of Montana will be collected to appear on the U.S. Capitol Christmas tree in addition to 70 companion trees in offices throughout Washington D.C. Special ornament making opportunities will take place throughout the year and Montanans will be able to create and send ornaments as a part of the year-long celebration. Details will be announced on the website ( for requested themes and how to submit ornaments, as well as special events.

Follow the story throughout the year online at and in social media: Facebook: USCapitolChristmasTree Twitter: uscapitoltree Instagram: uscapitolchristmastree

For more information, contact Sandi Mason with the Kootenai National Forest at or Bruce Ward, President of Choose Outdoors at


2017 program officially underwary

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Preparations for the 2017 U.S. Capitol Christmas tree program began with a community event on Saturday, February 18 in conjunction with the District basketball games in Eureka, Mont. Activities included refreshments, music, ornament making to adorn the Christmas Tree, displays highlighting past journeys of Christmas trees, and special appearances by Smokey Bear and school mascots. Thanks to all who attended, made an ornament and learned more about the 2017 program.







Kootenai National Forest Unveils Symbol Representative of Montana

Monday, February 13, 2017


The Kootenai National Forest has designed an accompanying logo to give a visual symbol to its preparations for the 2017 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree. The Beauty of the Big Sky logo conveys the message that this tree is uniquely Montana. Reminiscent of a snow globe in shape, the logo captures the essence of Montana. The grizzly bear, Ursus arctos horribilis, is Montana’s state animal. The tree resembles an Engelmann spruce. The purple and gold colors represent the plains and mountains of the state. Montana’s state outline provides a solid base.


Montana Forest to Provide Nation’s Christmas Tree in 2017

Monday, February 13, 2017

MISSOULA, MONT., Feb. 13, 2017 - The Kootenai National Forest has been selected to provide the 2017 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree slated for the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. Preparations begin Saturday, Feb. 18 in conjunction with the District basketball games in Eureka, Mont. with a community event.

Join Kootenai National Forest Supervisor Chris Savage at the kickoff at the Eureka Middle School gym, 235 7th Street E. Activities begin at noon and include refreshments, music, ornament making to adorn the Christmas Tree, displays highlighting past journeys of Christmas trees, and special appearances by Smokey Bear and school mascots. Christmas Tree activities are free and conclude at 4 pm.

“Montanans are proud of our rich outdoor heritage: our public lands, forest and rangelands, and clean air and water that provide recreation and economic opportunities for thousands of Montanans,” said Governor Bullock. “It is an honor for Montana to provide the tree for our nation’s Capitol while also showcasing our ability to work with diverse interests to do what’s best for our forest lands.”

The last time a Montana tree was chosen for this honor was 2008. The fir came from the Bitterroot National Forest. “Once again folks from around the country get to see what a real Christmas tree looks like. I am thrilled that we will be able to share a little bit of Montana's incredible natural resources with the rest of the nation,” said Senator Jon Tester.

“This is a great honor for Montana to have the Kootenai National Forest selected to supply the 2017 Capitol Christmas Tree,” said Senator Steve Daines. “This is an amazing opportunity to showcase the majesty of the Kootenai National Forest and Montana’s abundance of natural resources at the base of the U.S. Capitol for all Americans to enjoy. I’m excited for Montana to join with the rest of the nation in this special way to celebrate the joy of the Christmas season.”  

“It is an honor for Montana to provide the official 2017 Capitol Christmas tree,” said Representative Ryan Zinke. “Montana’s forests are an important part of our heritage, economy, and legacy. I applaud the selection from the Kootenai National Forest and I look forward to a piece of our state being shared with Washington D.C., our nation and the rest of the world.”

An imperative step is choosing the best tree specimen to represent Montana. Trees need to be between 60 and 85 feet in height. The candidate needs to be accessible for the crane and semi-truck that will be used to remove the tree. The tree species should be representative of Montana. If you have a suggestion, please contact Sandi Mason at the KNF. 

The Kootenai National Forest and its lead non-profit partner for the Christmas Tree project, Choose Outdoors, will work together to bring the tree to Washington D.C. in November 2017. During 2017, there will be special events, ornament making, a tree cutting ceremony and the cross-country tour prior to the arrival of the tree in the capitol city. The Feb. 18 event kicks off festivities. Contact Choose Outdoors, via Sandi Mason, to become involved in the project.

The Christmas season has officially begun

Thursday, December 08, 2016

On Tuesday, December 6, the 2016 U.S. Capitol Christmas tree from the Payette National Forest in Idaho was lit on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. Rain couldn't keep spectators from gathering to officially usher in the 2016 Christmas season. Idaho fifth-grader Isabella Gerard joined Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, along with Idaho Senators Mike Crapo and James Risch, Congressman Raúl Labrador, and Stephen Ayers, Architect of the Capitol. 

Watch exclusive coverage from 2016 media partner KTVB.




The story behind the 80-foot Christmas tree outside the U.S. Capitol

Monday, December 05, 2016

McClatchy DC, December 5, 2016- In the last 52 years, both the size of the Capitol Christmas Tree and the cost of getting it to Washington, D.C., have increased considerably.

In 1964, when the lighting of the tree became a yearly tradition, federal officials selected a 24-foot Douglas fir from a Pennsylvania nursery that cost $700.

When Boise fifth-grader Isabella Gerard flips the switch on the Capitol’s west lawn on Tuesday, she’ll light up an 80-foot Engelmann spruce from Idaho’s Payette National Forest that cost an estimated $600,000 to move across the country.

The good news for taxpayers: Corporate sponsors donated most of the money for the 2016 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree.

he 84-year-old tree, cut on Nov. 2 from Little Ski Hill just west of McCall, is just one of many Idaho trees sprucing up the nation’s capital this year.

While the arrival of the big tree on a 105-foot-long red truck got all the attention last Monday, Idaho also sent a second truck with another 69 trees, mostly Fraser firs. They were distributed to offices of various members of Congress and federal agencies.

Getting the Capitol Christmas Tree to Washington, D.C., each year has become a major production.

Alaska provided the tree last year, the first time it came from outside the lower 48 states. After it was cut in the Chugach National Forest, the tree spent three days on a ship, going to Tacoma, Wash., where it was loaded on a flatbed truck and sent to Capitol Hill.

Washington state and Minnesota provided the tallest trees on record, both 88 feet, according to the Architect of the Capitol’s office. Washington sent an Engelmann spruce from the Colville National Forest in 2013, while Minnesota provided a white spruce from the Chippewa National Forest in 2014.

Ted Bechtel, the superintendent of the U.S. Capitol Grounds, said that Montana has already been chosen to provide the tree in 2017.

Bechtel gets the final say in choosing the tree. He went to Idaho in July to select this year’s winner from among about a dozen finalists chosen by staff at the Payette National Forest.

“They provide the candidates and then it’s my job to select the tree,” he said. “I do this year after year – this is my 12th tree, so I sort of know what’s going to look good up on the lawn.”

After the tree arrived from Idaho last week and a crane lifted it into place, Bechtel arranged for a crew of 25 to 35 workers to decorate it.

At a news conference last week, Stephen Ayers, the architect of the Capitol, said the Idaho tree had a good overall shape and color, along with solid branches. They’re needed for all of the LED lights and the 6,000 ornaments made by hand by Idaho children.

“What a pilgrimage it’s been on – more than 2,500 miles on a remarkable journey,” Ayers said.

Brian Harris, public affairs officer for the Payette National Forest Service, said the tree made 30 stops before arriving on Capitol Hill, traveling through Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia.

“There were a few things that were a little nerve-wracking,” he said. “But it’s a big project. It kind of looks simple: Pick a tree, cut it and deliver it to the U.S. Capitol, but it’s not quite that simple.”

The biggest scare came on Nov. 6, when Brandalyn Crapo, an Idaho state trooper and the granddaughter of Republican Sen. Mike Crapo’s first cousin, was injured while leading the motorcade for the tree from McCall to Boise. A pickup truck crossed the center line and collided with her patrol car.

“She’s OK. She broke her hand, but she’s going to be at the lighting ceremony,” said Keith Lannom, supervisor of the Payette National Forest Service.

Lannom provided the $600,000 estimate on costs, but said that the final total won’t be known until January, after an audit is completed. Lannom said the public costs include the salaries of eight Forest Service personnel who helped move the tree. Corporate donations total about $500,000.

The tree drank 20 gallons of water each day during the cross-country trip. And its branches, which were 26 feet wide, had to be trimmed down and bent to fit on the truck. The tree was accompanied by two law enforcement vehicles and one forest service vehicle.

Gary Amoth, a truck driver from Twin Falls, Idaho, who hauled the tree, said thousands of spectators met the tree on its stops across the country.

“The people were fantastic – it renewed my hope in America,” Amoth said.

Jade Sumsion, a law enforcement officer with the Forest Service, called the trip “a once-in-a-career event for us.” He said his favorite stop was in Weiser, Idaho, where the motorcade was met with a local firetruck with its ladder extended and a huge flag hanging over the top of a tree.

He said everything went smoothly after the accident in Idaho.

“Making turns is not an easy feat, and blocking roads is the thing that people don’t think about, pushing back the traffic so that truck can get through town,” Sumsion said.

Isabella, who’s 10 years old and attends St. Mary’s Catholic School, arrived in Washington on Friday, making her first trip to the city with her parents, sister, grandparents, aunt, uncle and three cousins. She planned to visit the White House, the Smithsonian museums and take a tour of the monuments.

At 5 p.m on Tuesday, she’ll light the tree, which is adorned with 20 pounds of glitter. With her will be Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Sen. Crapo. Gates will open at 4 p.m., with no tickets required.

“I think it’s going to be really exciting,” Isabella said in a telephone interview on Thursday.

Crapo selected the girl for the honor after she wrote a poem titled “Pristine Idaho Mountains,” describing what snow does to the mountains and forests in her state: “making the landscape look like never-ending clouds with skyscrapers covered in snow.”

Isabella said it took her two to three weeks to write the poem as she sorted through “a bunch of ideas.” When she got the word that she had been chosen for the trip to Washington, she said: “I was surprised and, like, really happy.”

Kim Pierson, a district ranger with the Forest Service who coordinated public events during the tree’s 30 stops, said it brought joy to thousands.

“Out of 10,000 people, we had one grump – he just wasn’t happy that it was taking too long,” she said. “I’m a botanist and for me, this is a magnificent tree. I love Idaho and this really represents the Idaho spirit and how hard we work and how much we love our public lands. ... I’m so proud of us, that we were able to share Idaho with the nation.”

Rob Hotakainen: 202-383-6154, @HotakainenRob

Capitol Christmas Tree arrives in D.C. area

Monday, December 05, 2016

Three weeks and about 4,000 miles later, the Capitol Christmas Tree has completed its cross-country journey from the Payette National Forest in Idaho to Washington, D.C.

The Engelmann spruce arrived at Joint Base Andrews Thursday night.

"It's really special. This tree was selected out of all the national forests across the country to represent the Payette National Forest at the U.S. Capitol," said Keith Lannom, Payette National Forest supervisor. "So we're very proud to bring it here to share with the nation and celebrate Christmas."

The tree stopped at 31 locations along the way.

The lighting ceremony will take place on December 6 on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol.

U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree harvested near McCall

Thursday, November 03, 2016

From KTVB-TV: Christmas is still over seven weeks away, and while it may be a little early to get your tree, the U.S. Capitol Tree is about to make its long journey to Washington, D.C.

The 80-foot Engelmann spruce was cut down Wednesday morning at the Little Ski Hill, just west of McCall on Idaho 55.

It will spend a couple weeks traveling around Idaho, before making the 3,000 mile journey to the nation’s capital, where it will sit on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building.

Payette National Forest workers used a traditional crosscut saw, as a way of honoring the traditional logging skills and tools used in this region.

It is also a process that officials say has never been used before to cut down previous national trees.

“We just thought it would be kinda cool because we’ve never heard of anyone else doing it,” said Jared Schuster, with the Payette National Forest. “The other thing is, it’s gonna be quiet. We won’t have that chainsaw noise, and it’s going to be slow, so we have a little more safety on our side.”

After it is cut down, the tree will be carefully prepared for its cross-country journey. It will make 15 stops around the state before leaving for Washington, DC on Nov. 15.

Once it is set up on the lawn of the Capitol, it will be decorated with thousands of ornaments created by Idahoans. It will be officially lit on Dec. 6.

The public was invited to Wednesday’s tree-cutting ceremony.

With Great Enthusiasm, the Payette National Forest is Pleased to Announce the Location of the 2016 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree

Monday, October 31, 2016

The 80 foot Engelmann spruce that will travel to Washington D.C. and be placed on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol is located at the Little Ski Hill, just west of McCall, Idaho.

little hill big treeWhile many people may not know it, the Little Ski Hill is partly located on the Payette National Forest. Since 1937, the Little Ski Hill has been operating under a Special Use Permit from the Forest. For the past 79 years and into the foreseeable future, the Payette National Forest and the Payette Lakes Ski Club have had a great relationship that benefits the public by providing a winter recreation opportunity. Downhill and cross-country skiing have long been a mainstay of the McCall economy and helped to produce winter Olympic athletes who all spent numerous hours at the Little Ski Hill in their youth.

“The Payette Lakes Ski Club and the Little Ski Hill are very excited and honored that the 2016 U.S. Capitol Christmas tree will come from our ski area,” said Mike Lamm, President of the Payette Lakes Ski Club. “This is just one more special event that will be a part of the Little Ski Hill’s great history.”

The Payette National Forest and the Little Ski Hill will host a “tree cutting” event on Wednesday, November 2nd from 11am to noon that will be open to public to attend. KTVB Channel 7, who is a sponsor of the project, will broadcast the event live from the Little Ski Hill as well. Members of the public that would like to attend the event are encouraged to arrive early in order to help avoid traffic congestion along highway 55.

“The Little Ski Hill is an important part of the McCall community, and now the 2016 U.S. Capitol Christmas tree will be part of the Little Ski Hill’s legacy,” said Keith Lannom, Payette National Forest Supervisor. “Wednesday will be a very exciting day for the Little Ski Hill, McCall, and the Payette National Forest as our “Idaho Mountain Gem” will start its journey to Washington D.C.”

This tree and 3 others were identified as final candidates for the Christmas tree in July of this year. The requirements for the Christmas tree are that it must be 65 to 85 feet tall, have full branches around the entire tree, be of a rich green color and be cylindrical in shape – generally, it must look like a fantastic Christmas tree. Engelmann spruce is a native tree species the Payette National Forest.

“After a year of planning and preparation, we are excited to start the delivery of the 2016 U.S. Capitol Christmas tree to Washington D.C.,” added Lannom. Two Payette employees, Jared

Schuster and Chris Niccoli will cut the tree using a crosscut saw to honor the traditional skills used in Wilderness areas.

The Payette National Forest, along with the City of McCall and the McCall Area Chamber of Commerce will kick-off the in-state and cross-county tour of the U.S. Capitol Christmas tree on November 5 with the McCall Christmas tree lighting and celebration event in downtown McCall from 5 to 7pm. Please join us to celebrate “An Idaho Mountain Gem” that is a gift from all of the state of Idaho

U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Cutting Event

  • WHAT: The 2016 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree will be cut and loaded onto a truck in preparation for its trip to the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. The event is open to the public.
  • WHEN: Wednesday, November 2, 2016, at 11a.m. to noon.
  • WHERE: Payette Lakes Ski Club (The Little Ski Hill), 3 miles north of McCall, Idaho on state highway 55.


The lodge parking lot will be used as a viewing area for members of the public.

The People’s Tree

Wednesday, October 26, 2016


Around the country, the leaves are changing to hues of gold and orange, the air is getting crisp and cool, and the days are becoming shorter; all indicators that the winter holidays are nearly upon us. Certainly the holidays hold many moments of enchantment, but one of the most fascinating parts about the holidays in my opinion? The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree tour. While I’ve never been a part of the tour myself, this year I’ve been a part of some of the amazing behind-the-scenes happenings as the team gears up for the month of November.

If you haven’t heard about the Capitol Christmas Tree, let me give you a little insight into this much-loved and anticipated American tradition. It all started in 1964, when speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, John W. McCormack (D-MA), planted a live Christmas tree on the Capitol lawn. The inaugural Capitol Christmas Tree didn’t survive past three season, but the idea and concept around the tree stuck, thus the “People’s Tree” was born. Each holiday season since, the USDA, Forest Service selects and delivers a Spruce, Fir, or Pine tree to represent the country as the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree in Washington D.C. The chosen tree is not an ordinary tree; it is a handpicked specimen from a national forest, and with the help of thousands of people it is transported to the capitol, making many stops along the way as onlookers stand in awe.

The Capitol Christmas Tree arrives in Washington D.C. roughly a month after its initial departure from the forest. Upon arrival at its place of honor, the tree is decorated with thousands of unique ornaments donated by people from all over the country. From classrooms to nursing homes, the tree is decorated from head-to-toe, with a little piece from every corner of Idaho.

What’s truly special about the tree is the connections it builds between people—between communities. From the very beginning, the tree has a support system, people who come to help remove and transport the tree. People who plan for months to make sure that the tree can be seen by as many people as possible while on it’s tour. As the tree makes its way across the country, local communities come out to support the tree and see the regal tree in all its glory. For many, it’s a tradition that began during their childhood. They waited with their families for the Capitol Christmas Tree to stop in their town, and today they bring their own children. Each year the photos archived are filled with smiles. Young smiles and wrinkly smiles that beam American Pride and anticipation of the season.

This American tradition has not been a tradition for some, but a tradition for many, bringing old and new faces together with the U.S. National Forest Service and Choose Outdoors. Don’t take my word for it though—check out the list of cities that the 2016 People’s Tree, an 80-foot, Englemann Spruce from Payette National Forest will be passing through. With over twenty-five stops in communities along its 4000-mile trek, perhaps one of them will be near enough so that you can be a part of the magic!


Written by Olivia Tinney