The answer: People who happen to have giant trees in their yard! The chosen tree of 2016, a Norway Spruce, was grown in a family's yard in Oneonta, a community about half an hour from the village of Cooperstown in Otsego County, NY. Standing at 94 feet tall, it was one of the tallest Rockefeller Center Christmas trees on record. (The tallest tree was from Killingworth, CT, back in 1994, and stood at 100 feet tall.)
The tree was estimated to be 94 years old and weigh an approximate 14 tons.
The Eichler family, Angie and Graig, said they were honored to have contributed the Christmas tree. Residents of Oneonta since 1999, they lived next to the giant tree for twelve years.
"We're proud to have contributed one of the most famous trees in the country, if not in the world," said Graig Eichler. "I think it speaks to the beauty of our landscape - this selection is a real testament to that."
In past years people would apply to have their trees considered to become the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. This past year, as Rockefeller Center head gardener Erik Pauze was tree-scouting the nominees in central New York, he just so happened to round Franklin Mountain and catch a glimpse of the Eichler's 94-footer.
"He literally knocked at our door and asked if we'd consider our tree to become the Rockefeller Center tree," Eichler said. "We never thought it was anything special — it took an expert to pick it out!"
After the Eichlers agreed, Pauze came back frequently to water the tree and prepare the tree for its journey. Every branch had to be wrapped in burlap and rope, which took eight people a full eight days, and required the Eichlers to relocate the cable lines and disconnect their power. When it was time to cut the tree down, two cranes, including one that had to be positioned in their neighbor's yard, hoisted the tree and laid it on the giant flatbed truck that would transport it the 140 miles to Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. A crowd of about 200 people showed up to see the action.
"It was an incredible process to witness," said Eichler.
The Rockefeller Center gardening team promptly came and cleared the yard of the huge stump. Although Eichler said it was sort of sad to have it gone — the tree provided a spot for 2nd base and a pitcher's mound for family baseball games — they are also enjoying their newfound space and sunshine in the yard.
"We do get a lot more sunlight in the house now," he said.
The team at Rockefeller Center invited the Eichler's down to the city to see the tree installed, and they were there in-person during the annual tree lighting ceremony.
"It was exciting for our family, but it was more than that," Eichler said. "It's been kind of a magical feel for the whole Oneonta community and the surrounding towns, knowing this tree out of all trees was selected."
You can see the tree lighting ceremony live at Rockefeller Center annually after Thanksgiving.