Growing up, Andrea Clingon looked forward to the drive to her grandparents’ house in Parkville from her family’s home in Grandview.
She was guaranteed a good view of the Christmas trees along Missouri 9.
“Every year we’d drive in on 9 Highway and see the little Christmas trees,” said Clingon, who would grow up and move to Parkville. “It’s always been magical.”
For decades, the people of Parkville have marveled at a mysterious tradition. Some time after Thanksgiving, an unknown group has decorated a few of the evergreen trees on the bluff along the highway leading northwest into downtown Parkville. After the holiday, the ornaments would disappear as quickly as they arrived.
“I remember being young enough and naive enough to believe that it really was Christmas elves that put the decorations up every year,” said Colton Kelican of Parkville.
And while the tradition in reality has been perpetuated by a group of four people, now in their 70s, who want very much to remain anonymous, an unforeseen challenge to the tradition this week may actually end up ultimately expanding it.
The Missouri Department of Transportation was forced to remove the ornaments from the trees on Wednesday after citizen complaints pointed out that the “Christmas elves” technically didn’t have permits to display the decorations on a highway.
But with the help of Republican state Rep. Nick Marshall of Parkville and a group of passionate Parkville residents who adore the tradition, a permit is expected to be issued and the ornaments put back up.
Deborah Gant was perusing a Facebook page dedicated to Parkville history this Wednesday when she saw a post: What’s with the MoDot Trucks removing the Christmas decorations on 9 Highway?
“We were just like what?” Gant said. “And we just started getting on our horns, calling the state, calling officials.”
She wasn’t the only one who cared about the holiday staple. Kathy Stump and her family, who live near Missouri 9, were so inspired by the trees when they moved to the Parkville area a few years ago that they also began decorating trees along that stretch of highway. It became something to look forward to for her kids, Erin, 19, and Nathan, 17, and her husband, Phil.
“I never knew who (originally) did it but then we started to do it,” Stump said. “It gets so dreary in the wintertime and to have that color was really nice.”
With the help of social media, Gant and Parkville business owner Molly Green helped form a small group Thursday to ensure the tradition will continue. Using the group name ‘Save 9 Highway Christmas Trees’, they met Friday to organize a way to ensure the original decorations are put back up.
But as the Christmas enthusiasts began to talk, the idea arose to expand the tradition.
Parkville Mayor Nan Johnston, who attended Friday’s meeting and said she had received calls from several citizens who wanted to help, said she had no interest in seeing the tradition end. She suggested English Landing as a location for tree decorating that would allow more residents to participate.
Now, Save 9 Highway Christmas Trees members are hoping to plan a community tree decorating event at English Landing. The time and date will soon be determined.
“It’s such a neat little town.” Green said. “We want to keep people involved.”
As for the original trees along the highway? Expect to see their festive decorations return sometime next week. The group got a new permit on Friday.
City Hall staff have already picked up the dozens of bags of ornaments from MODOT and will help a group of “secret elves” put the decorations up in their original spots. As per tradition, they hope to keep their efforts under wraps.
“We want to keep that small-town charm,” Gant said. “That sweetness.”