Like most people stressing to find the perfect Christmas tree in the forest, Mike Hughes had narrowed his choices but struggled to pick just the right one.
And if you think selecting the right wild Christmas tree is stressful for you, Hughes was under much more pressure as he scrutinized trees on Nov. 20.
You see, Hughes wasn’t deciding on a tree for his home. He was picking one for the Colorado Capitol.
Hughes has been selecting and delivering the Capitol tree for about 25 years, which has earned him the nickname, “Mr. Christmas Tree.”
‘It took us a while to decide on it,” said Hughes, the assistant district forester with Colorado State Forest Service’s Fort Collins district, of this year’s tree. “We had picked about three of them and any one would be a good candidate — but none of them were perfect. It finally came down to selecting the one with the least imperfections.”
The chosen tree to grace the foray as you enter the front of the Capitol in Denver is a 25-foot subalpine fir.
Hughes and his crew cut the tree on the Sand Creek state trust land about 90 miles northwest of Fort Collins, where he has cut down the Capitol tree the past several years.
“We have to drag the tree to our trailer and we don’t want to scuff it up too much, so we look for trees about 30 feet from the road,” he said. “And when they are as big and full of water like this one, it can be difficult to drag them very far.”
The crew used a chainsaw to cut down the 48-year-old tree and drag it to the trailer. They then loaded it up and delivered it to the Capitol.
Experience has taught Hughes not to cut a tree larger than this year’s.
“One year we got one too big and it was hard to get it through the double front doors of the Capitol,” he said. “This one is full and about 12 feet at the base so it will work.”
The tree is called the Gold Star Tree of Honor and serves as a tribute to the Colorado military service members who have lost their lives in the global war on terror and their families.
Hughes said the trees aren’t just selected for their beauty but also with the environment in mind. This year’s tree stood among a stand of aspen, creating competition for an ailing stand in need of help. He plans to cut the Capitol Christmas tree from the site another two years, likely taking the remaining two of this year’s three finalists.
Then the crew will move to another state-managed site.
“Some of these aspen stands are looking a little decadent and these subalpine firs are encroaching on this stand, so we want to help the aspen out as much as we can,” he said. “I still believe in real Christmas trees and these trees have to come out anyway, so why not use them?”
Next year, the U.S. Capitol Christmas tree will come from Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests on Colorado’s Western Slope.
It will be the fourth time the state has produced the U.S. Capitol tree that is displayed on the White House’s west lawn. The last time was in 2012 when a 75-foot tall Engelmann spruce was taken from White River National Forest east of Meeker. In 2000, a Colorado blue spruce was taken from Pike National Forest. In 1990, an Engelmann spruce was cut from Routt National Forest.
This year’s White House tree is a 60-foot blue spruce cut from Carson National Forest outside of Taos, New Mexico.
Miles Blumhardt looks for stories that impact your life — be it news, outdoors, sports, you name it he wants to report it. Have a story idea, send it his way. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter at @MilesBlumhardt.
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