By Sherrie Norris
“Ruby” wasn’t without fanfare as she made her way from Newland to Boone on Tuesday — in the midst of an imposing entourage complete with police escort. Social media was abuzz with questions about “the big truck” taking up the middle of Hwy. 105, stopping traffic along the way.
Perhaps more than a few people were unaware that “Ruby,” a gigantic red spruce, aka The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, was on her way to Washington DC, with about 17 total stops before reaching her final destination.
Having been chosen for the honorary title earlier this year — and harvested on Thursday, Nov 2, in the Pisgah National Forest west of Asheville, “Ruby” began her approximate 1,000 mile-tour (including a few detours) with a “harvest celebration” on Saturday at Western North Carolina Agricultural Center in Fletcher.
The official tour — from Murphy to Manteo and beyond — began on Sunday and is expected to end on Friday, Nov. 18, at the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building.
Public Affairs Specialist for the N.C. National Parks, Adrianne Rubiaco, was all smiles as she spoke with High Country Press on Tuesday during the private tour stop at Watauga High School in Boone; she offered stats on the tree, along with logistics of tree selection, preparation, harvesting of the 78-ft. red spruce and the tour itself.
“Everything is going so well and we’re just thrilled to see how the communities along the tour have been so welcoming, and people are showing up for these events” she said.
Rubiaco shared how every year, since 1970, the USDA Forest Service has provided a Christmas tree, commonly known as “The People’s Tree,” to stand in honor on the west front lawn of Capitol Hill.
“We call it the People’s Tree because it is a gift from the people’s public lands to the U.S. Capitol Building – the people’s house – where it stands for all to see. The Christmas Tree serves as a reminder of the majestic forests and all the diverse landscapes that all Americans have to enjoy.”
On August 22, the National Forests in North Carolina and nonprofit partner, Choose Outdoors —along with presenting sponsor, 84 Lumber — announced that the 2022 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree had been chosen from the Pisgah National Forest and would embark upon a tour on its way to the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol building in early November.
This year marks the third time the Pisgah National Forest has been selected to provide the tree — including 1974 and 1998, she added.
Upon their arrival in Boone, Rubiaco and a large tour staff immediately set up information stations about the tree, as well as educational and employment opportunities of the national forests.
Rubiaco introduced us to Rachel Dickson, Pisgah Forest zone manager, who was not only part of the tree selection committee, searching through the forests for the “perfect tree,” but she was also the one who was “flown into the tree” to inspect it from the top down “for critters and anything that prevent it from meeting the criteria.”
As an avid/professional climber, Dickson said there were several other trees considered for the honor, but her team was certain they had eventually found just the right one, after foraging through hundreds of acres of forest land.
Also present on the tour Tuesday was Rodney Smith, a 31-year employee of the U.S. Forestry Service, who has spent his entire career in the Uwharrie National Forest in Troy, and was chosen as the sawyer for the celebrated tree.
When asked about his assignment, he chuckled, “A ranger told me, as we passed in the hallway, that I had been nominated for the job, knowing I didn’t mind public speaking and I have a lot of experience cutting down trees.”
Smith admitted that “Ruby” was the first one he had ever cut that was “so unique” and had to be lifted out by crane.
He was more excited than anxious, he added, and while the entire project preparation was time-consuming, the actual cut was the quickest part of it all. “It took days and hours to prep, and a lot of care was taken to lift it out and wrap it, prepare it for the tour, etc., but it’s been worth every minute and gives us a chance to focus on our great state and all that it has to offer.”
Because of the limited parking space available at the high school — and that which was needed for three large haulers that were also transporting other trees to the Washington area — the event was not open to the public.
But, the high school students, staff and some of Hardin Park’s students, were able to take it all in and participate in the displays during their extended lunch breaks.
“We really appreciate being a stop on this historic tour,” said Scott Elliott, Superintendent of Watauga County Schools. “The students are coming out for a chance to learn more about our forests through the displays that are here and to share in this great experience of seeing a US Capitol Tree on its way to Washington.”
Participants also had a chance to sign the banners on the side of the side of the trucks, enjoy hot cider and gingerbread made by the school’s culinary classes, and hum along to holiday tunes provided by the WHS orchestra.
Also present was Watauga Soil & Water Conservation District Supervisor, Chris Hughes, who, along with his wife, Vickie, had the privilege of representing Watauga County during the celebration on Saturday in Fletcher and plan to be in Washington to greet Ruby on her arrival later this month.
“Having the National Capitol Christmas Tree come for the mountains of North Carolina is a great way for us to feature the farmers of North Carolina and the biggest provider of live Christmas trees in the nation,” Hughes said.
“I had my first meeting with the United States Forestry Service back in February and I requested two things,” he added. “First, I wanted the tree to make a public stop in Watauga County on its way to DC, and second, I wanted children across the state to have the opportunity to hand make Christmas decorations to be placed on the tree in Washington.”
Hughes, who also serves as the President of the North Carolina Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, said that his association partnered with organizations from across North Carolina to complete the state’s goal of 6,000 ornaments themed “From the Mountains to the Sea” that display the diversity of people, places, plants, and animals for which North Carolina is known.
“This is a great opportunity for us to be able to showcase North Carolina Agriculture and conservation to the nation and the world,” Hughes added.
The U.S. Capitol Tree journey can be tracked in real-time online at capitoltreetracker.com, hosted by Spireon, Inc.
*Subject to change. Monitor the website at www.uscapitolchristmastree.com/calendar for updates.
Follow along online at www.uscapitolchristmastree.com and @uscapitolchristmastree on Facebook and Instagram.