By Stephen Smoot
It started life decades ago in a quiet corner of the Monongahela National Forest. Over the years, the sun, rain and snow, the stormy winds and calm breezes, and the nutrient rich soil allowed it to ascend to the sky while spreading its branches strong and wide.
Last Saturday, the 63-foot Norway spruce commenced its second life. Now it gets to represent a centuries old tradition to the wonderment of children from one to 92 as it tours the mountains of West Virginia before reaching its holiday home at the United States Capitol.
The Pendleton County Convention and Visitors Bureau has spearheaded planning the county’s contribution to the exciting tour. “We are working hard with local people and organizations to create a special day,” Amber Nesselrodt, executive director of the CVB, explained previously.
“It’s a huge honor. This is the third time that we’ve had a tree come off of the Monongahela National Forest and so it’s a really great way to highlight the State of West Virginia, and all of the people that have created thousands of ornaments that adorn the tree this holiday season,” Amy Albright, the project manager of the 2023 U.S. Capital Christmas Tree, told WBOY.
Because, as Nesselrodt explained, “The official tree has only come from the Monongahela National Forest twice prior to this.” The area is making special efforts to make the visit a memorable and exciting event.
The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree celebration will begin at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Pendleton County Industrial Park in Upper Tract.
The tree will make an entrance to great fanfare at 2 p.m., with a viewing and banner signing between 2 and 4 p.m. Two of the U.S. Forest Services most highly sought after celebrities, Smokey the Bear and Woodsy Owl, will be on hand to celebrate the tree and spread the message about forest safety and etiquette.
With partners such as the Pendleton County Farmers Market and Swilled Dog supporting the effort, attendees to the free event can enjoy an artisan market, live music by Mike Eye, a variety of food trucks, and entertainment for the kids.
The selected sawyers took down the tree near Laurel Fork campground in Randolph County. A U.S. Forest Service Facebook post shared that “the weather was very Christmassy and it was a little bit tricky getting into Laurel Fork Campground, but everyone made it and we conducted a safe event that was well-documented by a number of government agencies, partners, sponsors, and friends of U.S. Forest Service – Monongahela National Forest.”
The United States Forest Service last month selected two West Virginians to harvest the majestic titan. Arden Cogar, Jr.’s day job is Charleston lawyer, but moonlights as a world champion lumberjack with 55 world titles under his belt. His family worked with the West Virginia timber industry for six decades with his father leading the harvest team for the 1976 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree.
He was joined by Ron Polgar whose 46 years of service to the Monongahela National Forest outstrips anyone currently employed there. He also served on the USS Chicago in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War.
Senator Joe Manchin announced late last month that Ethan Reese of Beverly Elementary School was selected from more than 400 submissions as the official essay of the tree.
Reese shared that “I live very close to where the Capitol Christmas Tree is from, the Monongahela National Forest. I spend a lot of time there with my family, and I am the great-great grandson of one of the very first superintendents of the Monongahela National Forest. The biggest reason I love West Virginia forests and public lands is because they allow me to spend time with my family. I take photographs with my dad, hike with my mom, fish with my grandpa, identify wildflowers with my grandparents, travel and explore with my parents, and camp with all of my family.”
In September, the tree received the name “wa’feem’tekwi” by the Shawnee Tribe. As the U.S. Forest Service stated, “the name means ‘bright tree’ in the Shawnee language and is pronounced phonetically ‘wa thame tech we’.”