SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


U.S. Capitol Christmas tree is the first to come from Alaska; Companion Trees From Tongass



November 18, 2015
Wednesday PM

(SitNews) - For more than 50 years, a tree has graced the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol for the holiday season. This year, a 74’ Lutz Spruce will be the first U.S. Capitol Christmas tree to come from Alaska and also the first tree to be transported by sea. The tree was prepared for the 4,000-mile expedition by land and by sea, and left the Chugach National Forest followed by a caravan of caretakers for the journey to the U.S. Capitol on October 27th. Alaska's special gift is scheduled to reach its final destination on November 19th. The lighting ceremony for the 2015 National Christmas Tree is scheduled for December 3rd.

jpg The tree leaving the Chugach National Forest, followed by a caravan of caretakers

The tree leaving the Chugach National Forest, followed by a caravan of caretakers - October 27, 2015
Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service

The Chugach National Forest in partnership with nonprofit Choose Outdoors is bringing this special gift from Alaska to Washington, D.C. for the 2015 season with the help of Lynden Transport and its nationally recognized driver John Schank.

"This historic journey is only possible with the help of strong community partnerships throughout Alaska and beyond state lines," said Bruce Ward, founder of Choose Outdoors. "We're grateful for the time and resources Lynden Transport is providing to help make this the best tour to date."

"There is no one better to transport this precious cargo – the People's Tree – than our veteran driver John Schank," says Lynden Transport President Paul Grimaldi. "Lynden is an Alaska-based company and our roots run deep in the state. We are proud to be entrusted with the delivery of the national Christmas tree and delighted to support the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree tour which provides communities with the opportunity to celebrate the spirit of the season. John will do a great job – just as he does every day he drives for Lynden."

jpg Lynden Transport's nationally recognized driver John Schank

Lynden Transport's nationally recognized driver John Schank
Photograph courtesy Lynden Transport

Schank was recognized as the 2014 Driver of the Year by the Alaska Trucking Association (ATA) and received a letter of commendation from former Alaska Governor Sean Parnell for 37 years of accident-free driving over the treacherous Dalton Highway linking Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Schank has logged 5 million miles on the highway – more than any other driver in history.

Due to limit space and public safety at the Chugach tree location, the Oct. 27th ceremony was an invite only event. Following a brief ceremony and a blessing by John Ross from the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, the tree was felled by Chugach National Forest Certified C-Faller, Dan Osborn. Two massive cranes supported the tree which was carefully lowered onto a specially designed flatbed trailer with cribbing designed to support the trunk and branches. The total truck and trailer length is over 80-feet long.

jpg Tree cutting in the Chugach National Forest

Taken on October 27, 2015 - Tree cutting in the Chugach National Forest.
Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service

The Chugach tree began its journey with a community celebration in Seward, Alaska before it was prepared for the 4,000-mile expedition by land and sea. With great fanfare, driver John Schank left the Chugach National Forest with the tree followed by a caravan of caretakers for the journey to the U.S. Capitol. Two community celebrations also took place in Anchorage.

The tree was loaded onto a Totem Ocean Trailer Express (TOTE) ship for the journey to Seattle. The Seattle celebration and tour kickoff took place at the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) on Sat., Nov. 7th. Schank drove the tree to the event before heading east on the first leg of the Lower 48 tour. Community celebrations are held along the way, culminating with the official tree lighting in early December.

jpg U.S. Capitol Christmas tree is the first to come from Alaska; Companion Trees From Tongass

Taken on October 30, 2015 - The tree and trailer on its was to be shipped from Alaska to Tacoma, Washington
Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service

The tree and trailer was shipped from Alaska to Tacoma, Washington and from there started on its cross country journey to Washington D.C. During the journey, the tree is supplied with water through a 60 gallon hydration bag. The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree has made about a dozen stops as ittraveled through local communities on its way to D.C. A banner, hung on each side of the trailer, provided a place for members of the public to sign their name. As of today's date (11/18/15), the tree has reached Maryland and has traveled 3,395.39 miles. On November 19th, the tree will reach its final stop at Andrews Airforce Base.

Later, the tree will be placed on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol as a reminder of the season; a time of year that inspires reflection, hope, and celebration. On December 3, 2015, the National Park Foundation and National Park Service will present the 93rd annual National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony. Popular entertainers and a United States military band will add to the celebratory evening when the President of the United States lights the National Christmas Tree and brings a message of peace to the nation and world.

“It is a great honor for the People’s Tree to be chosen from the Chugach National Forest.” says Senator Lisa Murkowski. “This tree, this gift from the great land, is much more than a tree. It is an opportunity to showcase Alaska and our amazing resources. It is a symbol of the importance of the land where we live and with this tree we are sharing a piece of our land with the nation.”

“Not only does the Alaskan landscape sustain and inspire people; Alaskans rely on the Chugach National Forest and other public lands for their livelihood, food, shelter, recreation, and inspiration. We are proud that this tree comes from our forest.” says Terri Marceron Chugach National Forest Supervisor.

jpg Seven “Companion Trees” are also being provided by the Tongass National Forest

Seven “Companion Trees” are also being provided by the Tongass National Forest
Pictured: Art Williams (boat operator), Aaron Steuerwald (forester), Steve Hollis (seasonal forestry technician), and Crystal Vieira (seasonal forestry technician) loaded the trees cut in the Shoal Cove area which is accessed from Ketchikan by boat or float plane.
Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service

In addition to the U.S. National Christmas Tree (from the Chugach National Forest), seven “Companion Trees” are being provided by the Tongass National Forest, Ketchikan-Misty Fiords Ranger District.

"These companion trees to the national Christmas tree are of the species Pinus contorta, otherwise known as shore pine, bull pine, twisted pine, and lodgepole pine,” said Ketchikan-Misty Fiords Ranger District Forester Aaron Steuerwald.

“Shore pine that exhibit the more classic Christmas tree form tend to be younger and open grown because branches will not grow if there is shading from neighboring trees. Shore pine in Southeast Alaska are commonly found in muskegs. Shore pine growing in muskegs are usually short, twisted, and bushy but sometimes can reach 30-40 feet in height,” added Steuerwald.

The best available Shore Pine trees were found on the Shoal Cove road system on Revillagigedo island in Southeast Alaska by Aaron Steuerwald and Steve Hollis.

The seven “Companion Trees” were shipped to the nation’s capital on Nov. 14, 2015 and are destined for the offices of the Alaska delegation and other locations in Washington D.C.

The tradition of lighting the National Christmas Tree was started by the thirtieth president of the United States, Calvin Coolidge, in 1923.

The lead non-profit partner, Choose Outdoors, solicited sponsors to help reduce costs of shipping the 2015 U.S. National Christmas tree from Alaska. These sponsors included; Shell, Skybitz, Alaska Airlines, Alaska Crane, Alaska Railroad, Granite Construction, Kenworth Trucks, Lynden Transport along with 2015 truck driver John Schank, ReThink Wood, Truckload Carriers Association, TOTE Maritime, Hale Trailer, Berg Industries, AG & Building Supply, Chugach Alaska Corporation, Kenworth, and Doyle’s Fuel Service.


On the Web:

Watch a Video of the Cutting of the 2015 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree
A time-lapse video of the Chugach National Forest's Lutz spruce being cut and loaded on the Capitol Christmas tree trailer at mile 15.5 on the Seward Highway in southcentral Alaska.


Sources of News:

Track the Tree

U.S. Forest Service

2015 National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony

National Christmas Tree Lighting

Office of U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski


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Ketchikan, Alaska

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