Mon Forest Towns Capitol Christmas Tree

By ,

November 8, 2023


The Mon National Forest was selected to supply the 2023 Capitol Christmas Tree- however, this is not the first time the Mon has helped bring Christmas cheer!

On a snowy November 1st, 2023, a Christmas celebration years in the making was underway in the heart of the Monongahela National Forest’s Greenbrier District. An area traditionally frequented by wandering hikers and wildlife had been shrouded in secrecy and transformed overnight into a bustling workshop rivaling Santa’s North Pole operations. The object of all this attention? A specially selected 63ft-tall Norway Spruce, named Wa’feem’tekwi (Bright Tree) by the Shawnee Tribe- soon to be on its way to the Capitol of the United States.

Photo of Capitol Christmas Tree Harvest November 1, 2023

Braving the snow, employees of the Monongahela Forest Service prepare the Capitol Christmas Tree for transit at the Laurel Fork Campground. Photo Credit: Tina White.

The Mon and Christmas Tree History

Wa’feem’tekwi is the third Capitol Christmas Tree selected from the Monongahela National Forest since the program began in 1964, and it will be the tallest Norway spruce to grace the Capitol grounds.

While West Virginian trees have made their way to the nation’s Capitol in the form of construction materials and paper products for over a century, 1970 was a year of firsts. Not only was it the first Norway Spruce chosen, but the Monongahela had the honor of being the first National Forest to contribute a tree for DC’s Christmas celebrations- a tradition that continues to this day.

The Norway Spruce itself is a West Virginia transplant whose notoriety lies with the efforts of Austrian-born forester Max Rothkugel, who, under the direction of George Craig and the United State’s first Chief Forester Gifford Pinchot, developed a plantation to harvest the hardwoods. Although the National Forest and partners like the Central Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative (CASRI) are presently working to return native Red Spruces to the Mon, Rothkugel’s innovations remain a symbol of 20th Century America’s changing perspective on natural resource management, ushering in a new focus on sustainability. Visitors can still hike through West Virginia’s oldest tree plantation via the Monongahela National Forest’s Smoke Camp Trail and Rothkugel Interpretive Loop just minutes outside Durbin.

1970 Capitol Christmas Tree on White House Lawn

Capitol Christmas Tree on White House Lawn in 1970. Photo Credit: Architect of the Capitol

In 1976, the Monongahela National Forest was again tapped to provide a national symbol for Christmas cheer, this time in the form of a 41ft-tall Red Spruce. Located right outside of Richwood in the Gauley District of the National Forest, the tree was packaged with help from Richwoods Boy Scout Troop 269 before arriving in the town center accompanied by the tune of the Star-Spangled Banner and the words of Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees.”

For many of our Mon Forest Towns, this year’s Capitol Christmas Tree was a homecoming, a reminder of the region’s role in building America, and an opportunity to share an endlessly wild and wonderful holiday spirit. Sponsored by Elkins’ own 84 Lumber Company, the Mon Forest Towns sent Wa’feem’tekwi to its new home with a whole host of decorations. Led by the Elkins Sewing Center, quilters from across the Mon contributed to a stunning skirt for the Christmas Tree unveiled at the Mountain State Forest Festival, and West Virginia residents created a plethora of ornaments using natural and repurposed materials to celebrate the state’s rich history and natural beauty.

Capitol Christmas Tree Ornament

Handcrafted ornaments adorn this year’s Capitol Christmas Tree.

The contributions continued as the tree arrived in Washington, DC, with Richwood High School’s marching band performing for crowds of excited onlookers. As the great-great-grandson of one of the Monongahela National Forest’s first superintendents and winner of this year’s Capitol Christmas Tree Essay Contest wrote: I love that I have a great connection to one of West Virginia’s forest treasures.”

The People's Tree Essay winner stands beneath the tree at the Capitol

Ethan Reese, a 4th grader from Randolph County and winner of this year’s People’s Tree Essay Contest, at the lighting ceremony in DC. Photo Credit WVU Extension

The Capitol Christmas Tree Tour

After being cut down by two expert West Virginia sawmen and carefully packaged and loaded onto an enormous trailer, Wa’feem’tekwi began the next step in its journey to the Capitol- a tour of West Virginia! Arriving in Elkins on November 4th with a parade, serenades from local musicians, and Santa’s “Elfkin” dignitaries, residents wrote their names on the trailer, met with Forest Service staff, and shared their favorite things about the Monongahela.

Elkins Christmas Tree Parade

Elkins’ “Elfkins” celebrate the arrival of the Capitol Christmas Tree. Photo Credit: Tina White

Wa’feem’tekwi’s stop in our Mon Forest Town, Marlinton, on November 6th was accompanied by the local youth mountain biking club and traditional West Virginia tunes. At the Swilled Dog Distillery, located between Seneca Rocks, Franklin, and Petersburg, folks had a chance to try some of West Virginia’s finest spirits and ciders after adding their names to National Forest history. The tree wrapped up its Mon Forest Towns tour in Davis on November 13th, met with hot chocolate, sweet Christmas treats, and visits from Santa!

Musicians playing music in front of Capitol Christmas Tree event in Marlinton

Musicians in Marlinton, WV, play music for those gathered to see the Capitol Christmas Tree.


People gathering in Marlinton to write a message on the Capitol Christmas Tree

Pocahontas County comes together to add their messages to the Capitol Christmas Tree trailer.

After its long journey to the Capitol’s West Lawn, Wa’feem’tekwi stood adorned with West Virginia’s wild and wonderful spirit as the sun set on November 28th. The nation watched as the towering tree, surrounded by a mix of congressional delegates, Forest Service staff, Mon Towns stakeholders, and Randolph County’s 4H, was turned on by Ethan Reese, officially ushering in the Christmas Season. Gov. Jim Justice stated, “This shines a positive light on West Virginia and I am thrilled in every way. I also want to acknowledge the Monongahela National Forest officials for their care of the forest. Without them, this would not have been possible.” 

Marching band plays at Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony

Richwood High School’s Marching Band, after their trip on the “Lumberjack Express,” performs on the Capitol’s West Lawn. Photo Credit: Tina White

Another Year of Firsts

In addition to the Capitol Christmas Tree, the Mon became the center of Christmas cheer for the White House as well- the first time in history a National Forest has provided both the People’s Tree at the Capitol and the National Tree at the White House. After the previous White House Christmas Tree fell ill with Needle Cast, officials tapped the Monongahela to provide a replacement. West Virginia’s representative, Alex Mooney, noted that there was “a lot of West Virginia spirit in the air.” While the 42ft Norway Spruce suffered a fall due to a gust of 40+ mph winds, it was quickly righted, and the lighting ceremony, accompanied by big-name performers and remarks from the President and First Lady, proceeded as planned on November 30th.

Your Very Own Mon Forest Towns Tree

Want to bring a bit of the Mon-mas spirit home with you? The Monongahela National Forest offers Christmas Tree Permits for an unforgettable holiday experience!

Smokey the Bear and Woodsy the Owl attend the Christmas Tree Tour

Smokey the Bear and Woodsy the Owl at the Christmas Tree Tour.