CASCADIA — More than 56,000 permits will be issued for Christmas trees on national forest lands in Oregon and Washington this year.
But it's a sure bet that none will be bigger, prettier or receive as much national attention as an 80-foot-tall Noble fir harvested Friday morning from the Sweet Home Ranger District.
That's because the tree, found by district employee Frank Moore, is the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree that will adorn the lawn of the Capitol Mall in Washington, D.C. It is believed to be about 60 years old.
Although the Capitol Christmas Tree program has been around for 48 years, this is the first time a tree's come from the Willamette National Forest, and the first Noble fir selected by the Capitol architect.
"He told me this was by far the most beautiful tree of our finalists," said Sweet Home District Ranger Nikki Swanson.
While there was plenty of excitement to go around Friday morning at the tree site on Forest Service Road 2044 off Latiwi Road east of Cascadia, no one was happier than Swanson. She began lobbying her fellow Forest Service employees to harvest a tree locally more than a year ago. In January, the official announcement was made in Sweet Home and the real work began.
Since then, some 10,000 large and small ornaments were handmade by young and old alike at events from Sweet Home to the State Fair. Area quilters also crafted 80 tree skirts, to be used for the more than 70 smaller trees cut here that will make the journey east and decorate offices around the Capitol.
A "tree team" composed of Forest Service employees scoured the Sweet Home and adjoining McKenzie ranger districts looking for a beautiful tree that was 70 to 80 feet tall.
In August, Jim Kaufmann, the Architect of the Capitol, toured the five finalist sites, including one on the McKenzie Ranger District, and made his selection.
The tree was only about 10 feet away from the Forest Service's property boundary with Sweet Home-based Cascade Timber Consulting property.
On Oct. 1, CTC forest engineer Kevin Van Cleave put his crew to work clearing the Forest Service road, grading it, adding gravel and building pads for the heavy equipment needed to support the tree.
"It took us a week to brush it out," said Van Cleave, an Oregon State University graduate who grew up in Sweet Home. "Then we graded it and rolled it. We are proud to be a part of this great event."
Fifty members of the public joined Forest Service staff, local and state elected officials and sponsors as Jonah Gladney, a hand crew supervisor from the Detroit Ranger District, prepared to cut the tree, which was supported by a large crane.
Instead of the traditional warning of Timber!," Gladney asked the crowd, "Are you ready?" The group roared, "Yeah!" Then Gladney fired up the chainsaw donated by Husqvarna.
It didn't take long for the 21-year Forest Service employee to complete the task at hand and the tree was floating in the air.
"I was hoping the rigging was right," Gladney said afterward. "I was right next to it. It is such an honor to be chosen to do this. My family is here supporting me and so is my Forest Service family."
Saws used Friday will be donated to the High Cascades Forest Volunteers.
Before Gladney went to work, Nikki Swanson and several other special guests talked about the Capitol Christmas Tree program and what it means to the nation.
New Forest Service Regional Ranger Glenn Casamassa said he came to the Pacific Northwest after three years in Washington, D.C.
"The Capitol Tree is extremely important in Washington," he said. "People anticipate when the tree will show up. This is the grandest event I have ever been associated with in my career."
Mo McElroy of Choose Outdoors, said the love and support shown by people along the tree's 3,000-mile journey will be amazing.
She said that last year, Native Americans in Montana blessed the tree and the crew traveling with it.
She said the convoy would pull over in small towns where schoolchildren would line the street to get a glimpse of the tree and sign its banners.
"In Kentucky, we had Thanksgiving dinner in a local judge's home," she said.
More than 60 sponsors make the program possible.
Susie Pape' said that as a sixth-generation Oregonian, it was easy for her family's companies to say yes immediately when asked to be a sponsor.
Sweet Home Mayor Greg Mahler said it has been an exciting year for the community of 9,000.
"As a community, we get to show off our town to people from throughout the nation, to showcase ourselves as the Gateway to the Santiam Playground and all of the great outdoor opportunities that surround us," he said.
Mahler added, "We are grateful that a tree from here was chosen to grace the lawn of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., and represent the beauty and the abundance of Oregon's largest renewable resource. We, the people of Sweet Home, are pleased and proud to have the privilege to share a piece of the majestic nature that surrounds our town."
Next Friday, Sweet Home will host a day-long celebration and send-off for the tree, including a street fair starting at noon, a lighted parade at 6 p.m., a ceremony at the high school auditorium at 7:30 p.m., and a concert by Cloverdayle at 8 p.m.
The tree will be in front of the Linn County Courthouse Saturday morning and take part in the Albany Veterans Day Parade on Saturday. It will make several stops in Oregon before leaving the state on Nov. 14.
It is scheduled to arrive in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 28. A tree lighting will be held in early December.
Ranger Swanson said mid-valley residents can follow the tree's progress by going to a blog at https//yournorthwestforests.org/?s=Capitol+Christmas.
Linn County Commissioner Will Tucker and his granddaughter Charlotte Lang, 9, braved the persistent rainfall Friday.
Charlotte said watching the tree cutting was "cool." She had two cups of hot chocolate, learned that Ranger Swanson's horse is named Moki and she is now ready to head east with her grandparents and siblings.
The Tuckers are going to be part of the tree convoy, traveling the Oregon Trail in reverse in their motor home. The kids have already been studying about the Oregon Trail and the sights they will encounter.
Tucker plans to document the trek by sending a daily photo and information about the journey to the Democrat-Herald.
Only 50 members of the public were at the tree cutting due to space considerations, but a party for the general public was held afterward at River Bend Campground. It included videos of the tree cutting on a large screen.