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Decorated trees leading to litter concerns on Helena open lands

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Posted at 5:38 PM, Dec 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-03 11:08:35-05

HELENA — If you’re hiking in Helena’s South Hills, you may spot some trees sporting holiday decorations. While people may just see it as a way to add a little festive atmosphere, city leaders say there are some downsides to the trend.

“A lot of the decorations get blown away by the wind,” said Kristi Ponozzo, Helena’s parks, recreation and open lands director. “They get sort of dispersed all over open lands, and it becomes a litter issue that we have to clean up at the end of the year.”

Ponozzo says they first noticed decorated trees on Mount Helena and Mount Ascension a few years ago. Initially, there weren’t very many, but they’re now finding 25 or more a year. This year, ornaments are already hanging on more than a dozen trees at the bottom of the 2006 Trail on Mount Ascension.

“I think people want to go up and decorate and be festive and maybe take some pictures, which we think is great,” said Ponozzo. “We just ask that after they decorate the tree, they take all of those decorations down and take them home with them.”

While Ponozzo’s preferred option is for people to bring their own decorations back, they could also use biodegradable items – like fruit, popcorn or pinecones – that won’t need to be picked up later.

“The other option is just to leave the trees as they are: They’re green and festive and beautiful,” Ponozzo said. “We’re happy that people are out and enjoying it; we just want to make sure that it’s clean and beautiful for everyone.”