Christmas cheer can appear in the most unlikely places.
Like the side of Padden Parkway.
For several years now, an elf or group of elves has spread a little Christmas cheer to thousands of Clark County residents by decorating trees along the north side of Padden Parkway. The trees — most no bigger than the Christmas trees sitting in local living rooms — are part of the landscaping on the county property lining the stretch of Padden east of the intersection with Northwest 94th Avenue.
Vancouver resident Pam Brumfield smiles every time she drives past the trees.
"I think it's just the idea that somebody wants to spread a little bit of Christmas around to everybody," Brumfield said. "It's not a big, giant, flamboyant thing. It's a simple thing, but it's something thousands and thousands of people can get a little smile from."
This is the fifth Christmas Brumfield has spent in her home in the Sifton area. She passes the trees regularly while driving from her home to Washington State University Vancouver, where she's taking classes. She doesn't remember a year without the decorated trees.
Every year, typically after Thanksgiving, the decorations begin to appear. Some years, it begins with a lone tree. Other years, multiple decorated trees appear the same day.
Some trees are wrapped in sparkly silver or red tinsel. Others are adorned with round ornaments in a range of colors — red, gold, green, silver. Some are topped with big bows; one has an angel.
Melissa Johnson lives near the intersection of Padden Parkway and 162nd Avenue. She runs along Padden regularly, and makes it down to the trees at least four days a week.
"I just think it's cool somebody is trying to spread the Christmas cheer," she said.
Johnson has lived in the area for 12 years. She first spotted the trees about four or five years ago. Back then, fewer trees were decorated, she said.
She suspects more than one person is responsible for the decorations. Her best guess is the tradition started with one person and others jumped on board in subsequent years.
"I love that we don't really know who it is," Johnson said.
But there have been decorator sightings.
This year, Brumfield spotted three adults decorating the weekend after Thanksgiving. Vancouver resident Tabitha Deitrick, who lives near the intersection of Padden and Northeast 136th Avenue, spotted another small group of people decorating trees a couple weeks ago. In the couple hours that passed before she drove back through the area, the elves had decorated three trees.
"It's a simple thing, but it speaks to a lot of people," Deitrick said.
Kathy Withem moved from Seattle to Vancouver last year and was pleased to come across the decorated Christmas trees during her first holiday season in Clark County. She doesn't put up a tree of her own, so she enjoys seeing the whimsical trees.
She also appreciates that the decorators return after the holiday to remove the tinsel and ornaments.
"Sometime in January, all the decorations come down, which I think is even more impressive," she said.
Clark County Public Works spokesman Jeff Mize said the county hasn't received any complaints about the decorations or requests to remove the ornaments after the holiday season. Tree decorations would be problematic if they obscure sight distance on the road or cause a distraction for drivers — neither of which seem to be the case on Padden, he said.
But while the county isn't banning roadside Christmas trees, it doesn't recommend people pull over on the side of busy roads to decorate, Mize said.
Those who appreciate seeing the random acts of Christmas said they hope to see the Padden trees — and the holiday cheer they bring — continue for years to come.
"I'm kind of a sap about it, I guess," Deitrick said. "There is so much negativity around and so much drama and heartache. It's just nice to see something nice like that. … It's heartwarming."