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2 Towns Claim Title Of 'Christmas Tree Capital Of The World'


Christmas is the time of year when we make memories, but it's also a time for Christmas tree farmers in Oregon, North Carolina and Pennsylvania - where most Christmas trees are grown - to claim bragging rights. And there is a controversy needling the industry - which town holds the prestigious title of Christmas Tree Capital of the World? Lucy Perkins of member station WESA in Pittsburgh investigates.

LUCY PERKINS, BYLINE: There's no official method for picking out the best Christmas tree. So, like a lot of people, Laurie Kuzneski goes on instinct.

LAURIE KUZNESKI: That is a pretty tree. I like it. It's nice and full. And what kind of these? These are the...

GREGG VAN HORN: Frasier fir.

KUZNESKI: Frasier fir. They smell good. Smells like Christmas now.

PERKINS: She wanders through Fraiser firs on Van Horn's farm in Indiana County, Pa., with her family. It doesn't take long to find the perfect evergreen.

KUZNESKI: Yeah, she's dense. That's a pretty tree.

PERKINS: Gregg Van Horn owns the lot and has been growing firs like the one Kuzneski picked out for as long as he can remember.

VAN HORN: I was born and raised into it, I guess. It just kind of gets in your blood. Just seems like this was my purpose, to grow Christmas trees.

PERKINS: Christmas trees are deeply rooted in Indiana County. There was a long tradition of selecting Queen Evergreen every year, the only person whose beauty eclipsed the beauty of the county's Christmas conifers. To get to Van Horn's farm, I drove down Tree Trim Road and past a weathered, cheery sign saying, welcome to Indiana County - Christmas Tree Capital.

VAN HORN: That's right. We're known as the Christmas Tree Capital of the World.

PERKINS: The first pines and spruces were planted in the western Pennsylvania county a hundred years ago, before Christmas trees were as popular as they are today. Now, Van Horn says, other states grow way more than they do. But, he says, that doesn't matter.

VAN HORN: We're the only ones that have the signs up along the road that say, welcome to the Christmas Tree Capital of the World.

PERKINS: Not to stir the Christmas eggnog, but the Pennsylvania town isn't the only one with signs claiming the coveted title. Its challenger comes in the form of a little town in Oregon called Estacada. This is the mayor, Sean Drinkwine.

SEAN DRINKWINE: When I drove in to Estacada 15 years ago, and I saw the sign - it said, Christmas Tree Capital of the World. And I thought to myself, really? That can't be. So I drove around Estacada, and sure enough, everywhere I looked, there was a Christmas tree.

PERKINS: That makes sense because, according to the USDA, Oregon is the No. 1 Christmas tree grower in the country. And on top of that, Drinkwine says, the spirit of Christmas in Estacada is intense, a key component for any capital.

DRINKWINE: It's kind of one of those places you feel like you're in a Christmas village.

PERKINS: Not so fast says, Gregg Van Horn. He points out that the Pennsylvania town is the birthplace of actor Jimmy Stewart, and it hosts the It's A Wonderful Life Festival every year, which only adds to their Christmas clout. In Oregon, they do nearly the same thing, but without the bonus of Jimmy Stewart.

VAN HORN: There's everything. Our school bands and choirs come out to play. We have people singing. We have Santa. We have everything. And we bring a 25-foot tree in.

PERKINS: The town of Indiana puts up a tree too, but it's five feet taller. So who wins? Farmer Gregg Van Horn says the title will always be theirs. He says, even if Indiana County decides to stop growing Christmas trees one day, they were still first. Back in Oregon, Estacada Mayor Drinkwine says he would never put the Pennsylvania town down for having a spirited Christmas.

DRINKWINE: And I wouldn't take that away from them. But I can honestly tell you, if you've come to Estacada, you've walked our streets and you've talked to our people and you've felt the feeling, you will know.

PERKINS: We may never know where the true capital is - Santa was not available for comment - but maybe that's OK. The more Christmas trees, the merrier. For NPR News, I'm Lucy Perkins in Indiana, Pa., one of several Christmas tree capitals of the world. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.