North Carolina Department of Correction news release

November 10, 1998

Inmates help prepare Christmas tree for journey to the nation’s capital

MITCHELL COUNTY — This year the National Forests in North Carolina are privileged to provide the 50-foot Christmas tree for the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol, and inmates from the Department of Correction are helping to make sure the tree arrives in good condition.

For nearly 30 years, one of the nation's 155 national forests has provided a giant Christmas tree for the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol facing the Washington Monument. This year, the Capitol landscape architect chose a 50-foot Fraser Fir from high in the mountains of Mitchell County in the Pisgah National Forest as the Capitol Christmas Tree. It has been 25 years since North Carolina has had this honor. Last year, a North Carolina Fraser Fir was selected as the official White House Christmas tree.

Inmates participating in the B.R.I.D.G.E. program have been asked to help the N.C. Division of Forest Resources prepare the tree for its journey from North Carolina to Washington, D.C. The B.R.I.D.G.E. program is a cooperative effort between the Division of Prisons and the Division of Forest Resources used to put non-violent, young inmates to work in forestry conservation.

Three crews of inmates will be working on the Christmas tree project.

Pat Momich with the U.S. Forest Service said one crew will help prepare the truck that will transport the tree to Washington, D.C. She said the inmates are building railings and signboards for the truck that will serve as a giant Christmas card. The signboards will read, "North Carolina’s Gift to the Nation: The 1998 Capitol Christmas Tree." Residents will be encouraged to sign the giant signboards as a greeting to the nation as the tree travels around the state on a week-long tour starting Nov. 19 in Bakersville, the county seat of Mitchell County, at 2:30 p.m.

Another crew will be responsible for clearing the area around the tree of any brush and vegetation to make room for the crane that will catch the tree when it is cut Thursday, Nov. 12. The crane is used to prevent the tree from falling over and damaging its branches. The third crew of inmates will help tie down and wrap the tree’s branches to protect the tree during its journey up north.

The tree will arrive in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 30, and a lighting ceremony will be held Dec. 8.

B.R.I.D.G.E. stands for Building, Rehabilitating, Instructing, Developing, Growing and Employing. The program was conceived in 1985 primarily as a result of the serious mountain fires North Carolina experienced that year. The primary goal of the program is to have a well-trained and equipped fire fighting force ready at a moment’s notice and to give the young men a sense of work ethic and as many skills as possible to help them secure a job upon their release from prison. Inmates from the Blue Ridge Youth Center in Avery County and Western Youth Institution in Burke County participate in the B.R.I.D.G.E. program.

Earlier this year B.R.I.D.G.E. inmates helped residents in four western North Carolina counties recover from winter storms and flooding that led Gov. Jim Hunt to declare a state of emergency. At the direction of emergency management officials, the inmate crews built temporary foot bridges, unloaded National Guard trucks bringing in supplies, chopped firewood, helped remove debris and helped emergency management officials search for propane tanks and livestock.


For more information on the 1998 Capitol Christmas Tree, please contact Pat Momich with the U.S. Forest Service at 828-257-4266 or Julie Trzeciak, Asst. Public Affairs Officer at 828-257-4201.

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