Members of the White House’s staff ventured to the Creston farm to pick out this year’s choice tree on Tuesday.
River Ridge earned the right to supply this year’s tree when their 8-foot beauty earned the title of Grand Champion at the National Christmas Tree Association Convention and Trade Show in Des Moines, IA, on Aug. 15.
Prior to their national accolades, the duo earned the esteemed honor of receiving first place in the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association contest in Jackson County during September of last year. This year’s selection marks the second consecutive year that a tree from Ashe County has been chosen as the White House’s tree and the eleventh time in North Carolina Christmas Tree Association history. Altogether, six trees have come from Ashe County alone with the last local to win the prestigious awarding coming last year with Joe Freeman’s Fraser Fir presentation.
The trees from the field which White House personnel examined were planted in 1985 by Jessie Davis and father-in-law, Joe Pennington, and today some of the trees stand at a 20-foot height. River Ridge also supplies traditional sized trees in addition to their mammoth selection of Fraser Firs. Currently, the farm has between 900,000 and 1 million trees planted while employing 12 full-time workers.
As temperatures began to slowly climb out of the 40s Tuesday, Estes and Davis guided personnel through the field situated on the Creston knoll as they displayed their award-winning beauties amidst the chaos of guests and friends following on the heels of staffers, eagerly awaiting the “judges” decision.
White House staffers had the ability to be selective in their choice as River Ridge Tree Farms currently supports approximately 40 eligible trees. In order for a tree to be considered for the selection process, it must reach the minimum height of 18.5’ and be able to sustain the weight of nearly 400 intricate ornaments hung from the tree’s outer branches, officials said.
Director of Executive Residence and Chief Usher Steve Rochon described the attributes that prospective trees should have in order to be examined during the selection process.
“When we are looking for the right tree we look for fullness of tree, right symmetry, and make sure the tree doesn’t have any major gaps that an ornament could not cover,” Rochon said.
Rochon also explained how prospective trees should not have a double trunk and the overall girth of the tree should be able to fill up the spacious Blue Room in the White House. In addition to height and girth requirements, Rochon delved deeper into aesthetics and explained how the chosen tree should possess a deep evergreen color and have a straight as well as sturdy trunk.
After examining various trees by prodding interior branches and measuring each tree’s height with an elongated pole, staffers had finally reached their decision. This year’s White House tree will be a 21.5’ Fir with a girth of 12 feet.
The monstrous tree is tentatively scheduled to be harvested on Nov. 28 and transported to the capital on the following Saturday before presented to First Lady Laura Bush by Estes and Davis on Sunday.
“It feels like we just won a Super Bowl,” Davis remarked.
“Overall, it’s just a great feeling and I want to thank all my friends, family, and neighbors for helping us celebrate this special event.”
It’s a great honor for our farm, the community and North Carolina,” Davis said. “I’m tickled to death.”
In addition to his duties with the farm, Davis has worked for Gates for nearly 30 years and handles River Ridge’s business affairs. Estes studied agronomy while in college as he has been involved with the Christmas tree industry since 1979. Estes spends most of his time working in the field, overseeing the farm’s operations.
First Lady Laura Bush will announce the theme for this year’s decoration ensemble concerning festivities and the tree itself on Dec. 3 during the same time of cable’s early morning television broadcasts.