WASHINGTON, D.C. (WBOY) — Out of more than 400 entries, a winner for the 2023 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree essay contest has been chosen.

According to a release from the office of Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), out of all the West Virginian fourth graders who submitted an essay, Ethan Reese from Beverly Elementary School in Randolph County was chosen as the winner of the essay contest. As such, Ethan and one guardian will be invited to join the official tree-lighting ceremony in Washington D.C., among other festivities.

“I’m thrilled to announce Ethan Reese from Beverly Elementary School has won the 2023 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree essay contest out of more than 400 outstanding submissions,” Senator Manchin said. “Ethan will join us in DC this holiday season to officially light the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, which will be from West Virginia’s beautiful Monongahela National Forest.”

Students who participated in the contest were told to describe in 500 words “why they love West Virginia’s forests and public lands, incorporating the theme of ‘Endlessly Wild & Wonderful,'” the release said.

The 2023 Capitol Christmas Tree itself, also known as “The People’s Tree” or wa’feem’tekwi, will come from the Greenbrier Ranger District of the Monongahela National Forest in Randolph County. It will tour around West Virginia throughout November before making its final stop on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol for the holidays.

To learn more about the tree and its schedule, visit the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree website.

Video of Senator Manchin’s announcement:

Ethan’s essay can be found below:

“My name is Ethan Reese, and I am in 4th Grade at Beverly Elementary School. I live very close to where the Capitol Christmas Tree is from, the Monongahela National Forest. I spend a lot of time there with my family, and I am the great-great grandson of one of the very first Superintendents of the Monongahela National Forest. The biggest reason I love West Virginia forests and public lands is because they allow me to spend time with my family. I take photographs with my dad, hike with my mom, fish with my grandpa, identify wildflowers with my grandparents, travel and explore with my parents, and camp with all of my family.

“One of my favorite things to do in West Virginia’s forests and public lands is to identify plants and animals, especially birds. I did see a black bear once, which was pretty exciting. I really enjoy wildflower identification the most. My parents and grandparents tell me I “get it honest” because my grandfather is a biologist, and my great grandfather was a botanist. My great grandfather even discovered a plant on Cheat Mountain that was thought to have been extinct in West Virginia. When I travel around the state with my parents, I like to watch for wildflowers, listen to birds and smell the fresh air. The sounds of the rivers are very relaxing. I have visited many places with my parents in West Virginia, but still have a lot of other places I would like to visit.

“Our forest and public lands were something that allowed my family to still go outside and explore during the pandemic. For us, most of that was in the Monongahela National Forest, where I visited the Virgin Timbers on Cheat Mountain for the first time. My grandma is a retired history teacher, and she told us that over 100 years ago most of West Virginia looked like those Virgin Timbers. I learned that most of our forests were clear-cut long ago, but there were many people who helped restore our forests. One of those people was my great-great grandfather, Arthur Wood, who became Superintendent of the Monongahela National forest in 1931. He set a plan in motion to plant millions of trees to rebuild the forest for future generations. Thanks to those efforts, I am lucky my generation knows the Mountain State as one covered in Endless trees and Wonderful wildflowers, and home to many Wild animals.

“I love that I have a great connection to one of West Virginia’s forest treasures, the Monongahela National Forest, through family history and my love of nature! I am excited that the Capitol Christmas tree is from the forest where I love to explore, and I know my great-great grandfather would be so happy that, almost 100 years later, our beautiful Monongahela National Forest, and other state lands, have been kept Endlessly Wild and Wonderful!”