AUSTIN (KXAN) — Jon Selden took his family and friends, including his seven-year-old daughter, to decorate trees for the third year in a row on Loop 360 in Davenport Ranch Sunday afternoon.
They decorated their trees with tinsel, Christmas ornaments, and even a tree skirt.
Their tree was one of about 50 that ornamented the side of the highway running through Hill Country. The tradition of decorating the 360 trees dates back to the 90s.
“It was actually in our Advent calendar,” Selden said. “Like first day of Christmas, pull it out, ‘decorate a tree on 360.'”
When the family drove by a few hours later, Selden said all of their decorations, along with the other tree’s decorations, were gone.
“We looked over and just like the whole hillside is gone,” Selden said.
They had been taken down by a group called the Coalition of Anti-Litterers. Their reasoning for deconstructing the trees?
They say they saw it as litter and wanted to stop it before the decorations affected wildlife and waterways.
COAL organized a group of over two dozen volunteers through a Facebook event called Santa’s Cleanup Crew Rampage.
The group also encouraged its volunteers to dress in Santa costumes because, according to their Facebook page, it will set them apart from the decorators, get the attention of people driving by and start a tradition of Santa and his helpers picking up litter.
The event organizer Kate Ludlow said they saw a picture of the “trash” go up, and the group wanted to take act before the holiday season ended.
“We got a little angry and said ‘What if we cleaned it up beforehand and tried to show people just not to even do it in the first place?’” Ludlow said.
The decorators might not always clean up after their trees, but there are other organizations that clean up after the holiday season, like Keep Austin Beautiful. Ludlow said there was already litter on the ground.
Related story: How you can help clean up decorations on Loop 360 trees
Ludlow said 100% of the decorations do not come off of the trees, and it will get on the ground, so that is why they wanted to clean up beforehand.
“Just don’t do it,” Ludlow said. “We’re seeing decorations, so many decorations from last year, some look like they’ve been out here for multiple years.”
There are a few memorial trees along the highway. Ludlow said they are aware of those trees and are not going to take down their decorations.
“We’re not here to pick a fight with anybody,” Ludlow said. “We don’t want this to be a negative thing. We want it to be positive. Eventually we’d like to see it not happen at all.”
The back and forth issue has been going on for years. Loop 360 is a state owned and operated road, so the vast majority of these trees are on the state’s right of way.
TxDOT said in a statement this is not an agency sanctioned practice.
Austin Police Department said they would probably not cite anyone for litter, but it is at the officer’s discretion, and the officer would have to witness the actual act of littering.
APD also said for the clean up crew it is not considered theft because once a person leaves something in a public place it is technically abandoning it, and something abandoned cannot be stolen.
Texas Parks and Wildlife, the department told KXAN last year the ornaments haven’t been much of a concern for wildlife.
Related story: Loop 360 Christmas decorations spark controversy
Selden said he understands, but the side of the highway is not the Yosemite Valley.
“This is just a highway in the middle of Austin, so get over it,” Selden said. “This has been going on a lot longer than any of us have been in Austin.”
Selden said it is some people’s way of enjoying the holidays in their own weird way.
“I’ll gladly come out after the holidays are over and help them pick it up if that’s there concern, but for now let us have a little bit of weirdness for Christmas,” Selden said.