A very special tree that will soon be set up on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington D.C. visited Missoula on Sunday.
Elizabeth Slown, public affairs officer with Region 1 of the U.S. Forest Service, said the tree comes from a different national forest every year. This year’s tree was harvested from Chugach National Forest in Alaska on Oct. 27.
It's a 90-year-old, 74-foot-tall Lutz spruce, a natural hybrid of white spruce and Sitka spruce, Alaska’s state tree.
“In 2008, the tree came from the Bitterroot National Forest, and in 2017 it’s going to be coming from our region again,” Slown said.
The Forest Service has been providing the tree for the U.S. Capitol Building lawn every year since 1970, although the history of a tree put up by the Speaker of the House goes back to 1964.
Jodi Petrich, who works with an organization called Choose Outdoors that partners with the Forest Service to deliver the tree, is one of the people traveling with the Lutz spruce on its trip across the country. She said after Forest Service employees at Chugach highlighted a few possible trees, the architect of the U.S. Capitol came out to help pick the final one that would be cut down.
“They really tried to have as little environmental impact as possible,” Petrich said, adding that the tree was harvested very close to an existing roadway that runs through the forest.
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After the tree was harvested, it was put on a ship to Tacoma, Washington, where the traveling team loaded it onto a truck to start its journey across the U.S. A hydration bag attached to the base of the trunk keeps the tree alive during the trip.
“Last year, the tree took on about 15 gallons of water every day,” Petrich said.
Petrich said they will be stopping for 11 events on the tour across the country, and they chose Missoula because it is the location of the Forest Service Region 1 headquarters as well as the National Forest Foundation. After staying in Missoula overnight, the tree is heading to a brief stop in Bozeman on Monday before being taken to Sheridan, Wyoming.
“On Wednesday, the truck is going to be a part of the Veteran’s Day parade in Rapid City,” Petrich said.
She said Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski selected a fifth-grade student named Anna DeVolld from Soldotna, who will travel to Washington, D.C., and be the one who gets to light the tree on Dec. 2.
A banner hung over both sides of the truck that carried the tree during its stop in Missoula in the parking lot of Cabela's, and the public was invited to come out and sign a message that would be delivered to the nation’s capital. Skye Phillips, 9, came to see the tree with her grandmother Penny.
“I just signed my name, I couldn’t write anything else because I’m too short,” Skye Phillips said.