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Local tree becomes White House centerpiece

Originally published: Nov. 29, 2012
Last modified: Nov. 29, 2012

Adam Orr

Like households across the country on the day following Thanksgiving, the President of the United States and family begin the Christmas season by decorating a beautiful 19-foot tall Fraser fir. 

This particular tree is a little more special than most, however, as it was grown in the heart of the High Country on Peak Farms in Laurel Springs. 

The tree was presented on Nov. 23 to First Lady Michelle Obama by Ashe County residents Rusty and Beau Estes of Peak Farms, and will serve as an Official White House Christmas Tree during the 2012 holiday season. 

Michelle Obama carries on a tradition started in 1961 when the White House staff began choosing an official White House tree to grace the Blue Room. The official tree's theme is chosen at the discretion of the First Lady. 

In 2010, Obama  chose to honor state and county fairs by featuring prize ribbons from across the country. 

Last year, she decorated the Blue Room Tree with medals and patches from all branches of the military. 

The Estes family earned the honor of providing this year's tree by winning the National Christmas Tee Association contest in Sacramento, Calif., in August. 

The specific White House tree was later handpicked by White House Superintendent of Grounds Dale Haney and Chief Horticulturist Jim Adams of the National Park Service during a visit to Peak Farms on Oct. 3. 

The tree was later harvested during a Nov. 17 ceremony, and was part of the Ashe County Christmas Parade that weekend as the tree made its way through West Jefferson before making the 370-mile journey to Washington, D.C. 

“I got goosebumps watching them lift the tree in place, knowing we planted it and grew it on our farm,” said Rusty Estes, who began his career in 1979 with just 300 trees grown on a small plot of land. “It's always a special feeling watching a tree you grew go into a house especially this house.” 

During the nonwinter months, Estes worked as a golf course manager. 

By 1993, however, Estes had moved his family to Ashe County and began a commercial enterprise that currently farms more than 300,000 trees. 

Along the way, Estes has figured out how to grow a champion Christmas tree or two. 

“The tree got a ‘thumbs up' — literally — from the First Lady during the (tree) presentation ceremony that included a horse-drawn wagon carrying the tree up to the North Portico of the White House,” said NCTA's Rick Dungey.

For more information and stories, see Ashe Mountain Times.