Homes for gnomes: Small houses sprout up along Tomahawk Creek Trail

08/27/2013 4:28 PM

08/27/2013 4:30 PM

Some magical mischief is afoot in Overland Park. An unknown person has built three homes for fairy-tale folk along the Tomahawk Creek Trail.

The houses, only a couple of feet tall, are decorated with hinged doors, mailboxes and more. If you open the purple door to one hollowed tree house, you might find a tiny table set for tea.

“Whoever’s been doing it leaves messages like, ‘I’m sorry I won’t be able to have tea with you,’” said Overland Park resident Cathy Durke said.

About six months ago, Durke came across the first one while walking her dog on the trail, not far from the fire station across from Deanna Rose Farmstead on Switzer Road.

“It’s just like it’s for little gnomes,” she said.

A small bag with blank note cards hangs from the tree, and passersby have taken to leaving messages for the house’s supposed occupant, known only as “R.T.,” the signature that appears on his or her notes.

One recent note to the mysterious house-builder read, “Smurfs wanted,” while another from some well-wishers described a tiny table and potted plant they left as a housewarming gift.

That’s just one of the houses. A more elaborate house is nearby and just appeared recently. Made from a lacquered and hollowed-out tree stump, this house has a thatched roof that appears to be made from moss and sticks. It, too, has a hinged door that latches.

Hanging outside is a small swing, maybe two inches wide. Metal bells hang by the door, seemingly there as doorbells for the occupant. Inside, a tiny Adirondack chair sits next to a stone fireplace lit by a battery-powered tea light.

An appropriately-sized wagon stands outside the door with extra firewood — just in case. The house bears a mailbox that reads “51 Hollow Tree Lane.”

A note tacked to the outside wall indicates that this new dwelling might be from a different builder than the first. Addressed to “Miss M,” the note welcomes the resident to Firefly Forest and offers an accompanying bottle of yellow liquid, dubbed firefly juice. It also offers assistance from R.T., the resident at 64 Hollow Tree Lane, the address on the first house’s mailbox.

Someone also has made stylized wooden signs on the trail that read “Firefly Forest.” A third house is down the trail a little ways.

The feeling of mystical goodwill may be catching. Notes written in chalk appear all over the trail’s asphalt path, with messages like “Be You” and “You R Gorgeous.”

Durke said the people who regularly use the path seem to love the houses.

“I knew a man who couldn’t get his grandkids to walk with him, and now they want to come all the time to see the gnome houses,” Durke said.

As she talked about the houses, a biker riding by shouted at Durke, “Watch out, or the hobbits will get you.”

For Durke, it’s “all very mysterious,” she said. “Someone’s gone to a lot of trouble.”

She suspects that the architect might be a retired person who knows how to work with wood, but R.T. hasn’t made any attempts to be identified. Durke hopes that more houses will appear, and, “we’ll have a little village.”

The city of Overland Park is aware of the fairytale dwellings and has no plans to disturb them at the moment.

“If we get a proliferation, we might have to address it, depending on what the materials are,” said Greg Ruether, director of parks services for Overland Park. “I did think it was an interesting idea.”

He doesn’t know who put them up either, but said the city is “monitoring it and checking into it.”

Ruether has heard the sites may geocaches, which are scavenger hunt sites people find using GPS devices, but he hasn’t seen specific evidence of that.

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