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November 15: North Dakota Christmas Trees

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North Dakota’s bare landscape isn’t known for its trees, but in the state’s centennial year of 1989, North Dakota provided two trees for Christmas in the nation’s capital.

On this date in 1989, two Black Hills light spruce trees were cut down in the Denbigh Experimental Forest near Towner. The trees were sent to Washington, D.C., to adorn the U.S. Senate dining room and the Supreme Court Building. Then-Senator Kent Conrad led the effort, along with leaders of the Custer National Forest and the Towner State Nursery.

The two trees were selected by the nursery manager and approved by Conrad when he visited the forest in the summer. One of the trees measured 24 feet tall, the other 18 feet. They had been planted in 1961 in a spruce seed orchard. The trees were the first from North Dakota to be used in the nation’s capital. The state previously hadn’t had trees of the appropriate the size or type.

1989 was also the year of the North Dakota Centennial. Two years earlier, the state's Centennial Commission had set an ambitious goal when it came to trees, looking to plant 100 million trees by the year 2000 — 1 million trees for every year of statehood. The project was slowed by drought, and by headwinds in the Legislature, so it fell short of the goal, with around 66.7 million trees planted by 2000. Many of those trees are still visible today, such as the Centennial Forest in Jamestown north of Interstate 94 and the Centennial Grove on the state Capitol ground in Bismarck.

The Denbigh Experimental Forest is a fine place to enjoy trees in North Dakota, as are the Turtle Mountains, Pembina Gorge and the Sheyenne River Valley.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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