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News / Life / Clark County Life

Vandals destroyed a Gnome Trail in Hazel Dell; now the masterminds are looking for help to rebuild

The fantasy village near Burnt Bridge Creek started during the pandemic

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian staff writer
Published: May 14, 2024, 6:05am
6 Photos
Stacey Condren removes a damaged sign on The Gnome Trail on a morning in early May.
Stacey Condren removes a damaged sign on The Gnome Trail on a morning in early May. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Wanted, to repopulate the woods after a wave of senseless destruction: gnomes, fairies, elves and other magical minifigs, brave and true, to face down the mysterious menace.

“It used to be the sweetest thing, and now it’s kind of horrible,” said Hazel Dell resident Stacey Condren, the mastermind of a beloved but informal fantasy village near the west end of the Burnt Bridge Creek Greenway Trail.

Tucked into the woods on the south side of that trail is a whimsical but wounded grassroots project called The Gnome Trail. Condren and her husband launched it a couple of winters ago, she said, simply to season the Burnt Bridge Creek Trail with additional imagination-firing incentive for the littlest walkers. Their own children are grown and flown. But Condren said she keenly remembers the joy — and challenge — of taking little tykes on outdoor adventures.

So Condren and her husband, Gary, found this modest network of side trails where they could install a pioneering party of tiny, pointy-hatted, bearded little men. Plus a couple of windows and doorway into the tree they call home. Plus a carved wooden sign inviting passersby on the main trail to visit The Gnome Trail.

“It was still during the pandemic,” she said. “We just thought it would be a nice way for parents to get kids out of the house.”

The Condrens started The Gnome Trail anonymously and meant to keep it that way. After transporting those earliest migrants, they stopped by every week or two to see how they were settling in.

They were frequently delighted to discover families and children exploring and contributing to a proliferating, scattered society of imaginary creatures — mermaids, Chinese dragons and Disney dwarves. And their tiny houses and wee toadstools. And their pet ducks, dolphins and dinosaurs.

It’s an ethnically diverse, broadly inclusive, welcoming culture that’s been spreading along The Gnome Trail for the past couple of years.

Maybe that’s what some Grinch couldn’t stand about it. Casual vandalism and theft aren’t unknown here, Condren said, but about two weeks ago somebody apparently went through the place with malicious intent — and perhaps a hammer or bat. If they couldn’t remove or behead a gnome, they smashed it to bits.

Not everything along The Gnome Trail was destroyed, but much was. The trail wound up littered with ceramic shards and plastic pieces.

Condren used to want to keep The Gnome Trail’s existence quiet — other than managing a Facebook fan page for people’s friendly posts and photos — but now she feels forced to spread the word.

“Well-behaved gnomes looking for a new home are free to join the community,” she posted on Facebook. “G-rated gnomes only, please.”

Last week, Condren invited The Columbian along as she visited the site to do some cleanup — and some gnome repopulation.

The Gnome Trail is adjacent to but not part of an extensive dirt-bike track that was carved into the woods long beforehand, Condren added. Same goes for the Cedar Cathedral sign and the locked Prayer Box. Both predate The Gnome Trail, and it’s unknown who installed them.

Condren said she’s pretty sure that city work crews are pro-gnome. She’s seen evidence of tree work in the area that steered carefully around the little beings, leaving them undisturbed.

Condren wishes others would do the same, she said.

“We’re appealing to the community,” she said. “We really need people, or maybe the city, to take this wonderful thing on before the vandals just take it over. This is meant to excite kids’ imaginations, to help them feel some wonder. Who could be against that?”

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