Crain in the trees

Mandy Villwock takes tree health very seriously – so seriously in fact, that she will ensure the health of this year’s U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree as it makes the 4,000 mile journey via land and sea from Seward, Alaska to Washington, D.C.

Every year since 1970, the U.S. Forest Service has chosen a different national forest to contribute a tree. For the first time ever, Alaska will contribute the tree that will sit on the west lawn in front of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. An 80-foot truck – fueled with Shell diesel – is transporting the tree across the country to our nation’s capital this fall. Shell is proud to sponsor this year's U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree celebration.

About 15 community celebrations are planned throughout the journey, culminating with the official tree lighting on Dec. 2.

Silviculturist tapped to select candidate trees

After the Forest Service chose the Chugach National Forest as the tree’s location for 2015, a district ranger asked Villwock to select potential candidates for this year’s U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree.

Of the 154 national forests in the United States, the Chugach is both the northernmost and westernmost. It’s also the second largest national forest in the system at over 5 million acres.

“The district ranger said he had a special assignment for me, but I never expected this. I was a bit daunted at first since I realized the importance of the tree not just to Alaskans but to the entire nation. I spent about three weeks canvassing the road system looking for a 70-foot tall beautiful Christmas tree.”

- Mandy Villwock, Silviculturist – Chugach National Forest
Mandy and Beth

During those three weeks, she found six candidate trees and then presented them this past spring to Ted Bechtol, the U.S. Capitol Superintendent of the Grounds.

When Villwock searched for the perfect tree, she relied on her intuition. “I wanted one that was conical in shape, had little damage or broken branches, featured nice form, was at least 65 feet tall and had branches from the ground to the top.”

After viewing all of the candidate trees, Bechtol made his choice – a 74-foot tall Lutz spruce. The 90-year-old tree is a hybrid between a white spruce and a Sitka spruce.

A man standing in the crain

Tree cutting ceremony kicks off the 2015 celebration

U.S. Forest Service staff cut down the tree on Oct. 27 near Seward, Alaska. Villwock worked with a construction firm to build a road leading to the tree. Alaska Crane provided two cranes during the cutting, and staff placed a crane on either side of the tree to mitigate any potential damage. Once cut, staff placed the tree on a trailer and then wrapped it for protection.

Throughout the journey, Villwock ensures the tree’s 60-gallon bladder at the bottom of the tree is full of water so it stays properly hydrated. The tree consumes around 40 gallons of water per day. Hydration is key as the tree travels through varying climates and temperatures.

Villwock is following behind the truck transporting the tree all the way to Washington, D.C. As the tree stops in various communities across the country, she speaks with community members about the tree’s birthplace and unique characteristics.

It’s all about the journey

After 10 years in the Forest Service, Villwock never could have predicted that she’d end up selecting what many view as one of our most significant national icons – ‘The People’s Tree.'

“This is more than a tree. It symbolizes the beauty and bounty of not only our national forests but the diversity of our nation. It sends an inspiring message to everyone who sees it.”

- Mandy Villwock, Silviculturist – Chugach National Forest

She added, “Having the opportunity to engage with communities of all sizes, demographics and beliefs with the tree as the binding thread is such an incredible gift. While I have no doubt that the lighting ceremony will be spectacular, the cross-country journey has made me see certain things in an entirely new light.”