So what does the “perfect” Colorado Christmas tree have to look like to be suitable for display at the U.S. Capitol? It has to be at least 65 feet tall and of handsome shape, round in the middle and small and nicely pointed at the top. It can’t have any gaping Charlie Brown holes or random dead branches. It needs to be a hearty thing, with all of its needles and free of illness, so it can survive in a water diaper on the back of a Mack truck for almost 60 days and still be attractive for the masses.
“It’s subjective, you know?” said Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall. “There is no perfect tree. Well, there might be, actually. But we want it to look good. It’s a gift from our state; it draws attention to our forests at their best.”
In other words, there is a lot of pressure on the little tannenbaum.
When news that Colorado was to furnish the 2012 U.S. Capitol Christmas tree arrived at the White River National Forest office in Glenwood Springs, Scott Fitzwilliams wanted to “dive under my desk.”
“A lot goes into it,” said Fitzwilliams, supervisor of the White River National Forest. “You think you just put a tree on a truck and send it to Washington. But you can’t just chop a tree down and let it fall. … It’s a lot of pomp and circumstance, and it’s very expensive.”
Colorado last supplied the Christmas tree in 2000. Fitzwilliams has never shepherded the process before.
Mack donates the transportation from the tree’s birthplace to a Forest Service road in northern Colorado to the heart of the nation’s capital. The Association of Convenience Stores donates the gas. Others furnish food and hotel rooms for those carrying the tree.
The tree goes on a national tour, stopping in the Carolinas, Texas and Pennsylvania. It will be adorned with ornaments made by Colorado kids and will be encased in a wrap so the needles don’t get damaged. It will also have a giant rubber diaper to keep it hydrated. The tree drinks about 65 gallons of water per day.
Last week, Fitzwilliams and Udall went on a scouting trip in the White River forest to look at 10 or 12 “candidate trees.” Udall was secretive on where they had the best luck, but he said they were between Meeker and Steamboat Springs, at about 9,000 feet.
Next month, the U.S. Capitol architect will travel to Colorado to make the final selection. The tree will be taken care of, its location top-secret.
Around Nov. 1, it will be chopped down.
At a tree-lighting ceremony in December, House Speaker John Boehner and a yet-to-be-named Colorado child will get to turn on the lights. A fundraising effort is underway for travel for the child and his or her family, Fitzwilliams said.
“Sometimes, I think it’s just a tree,” Fitzwilliams said. “But it’s a very big deal. It’s part of a tradition that’s been going on for a long time.”