AUSTIN (KXAN) — A local nonprofit is asking for volunteers this weekend to help clean up what’s left of a uniquely Austin tradition.
Decorating the juniper trees on the side of Loop 360 seems to get more popular each holiday season, but coming back after Christmas to take down the decorations does not. “People definitely go all out when they’re decorating these things,” said Myrriah Gossett, director of community engagement with Keep Austin Beautiful.
Close to two weeks after Christmas, most of the ornaments and garlands are still on the trees, and they can start to cause problems for the environment and wildlife.
Gay May, who decorated a tree north of Bee Cave Road, came back Thursday morning to take her ornaments down. “I think if you put it up and then you come back and take it down, it’s a great tradition,” she said. “I think it’s fun, and it’s something kind of unique to Austin.”
This was the first year May adopted one of the trees; her family came out the Saturday after Thanksgiving to hang red balls and a big red bow on the branches of the juniper. May said she didn’t want to put the burden of cleaning up on anyone else.
“I think this will become part of our Christmas tradition each year,” she said. “But, we’ll definitely be cleaning it up, too.”
Gossett wishes more people thought like May. She met with KXAN Tuesday in front of a few of the trees to explain why KAB is so adamant that the decorations be removed. “You can see already a bunch of them have fallen onto the ground,” she said.
Animals can mistake the ornaments for food or hurt themselves on the broken shards left behind; the decorations can disrupt habitats, especially of the golden-cheeked warblers that depend specifically on juniper trees in central Texas; and the leftovers can get into nearby waterways like Bull Creek.
For the last six years, KAB has organized volunteer cleanup days — attracting hundreds of people — to collect the discarded decorations. “I think last year we had 100 bags of decorations that we took to Goodwill, so things that could be reused and recycled,” Gossett said, “and then there was a fair amount of stuff we unfortunately had to trash.”
Keep Austin Beautiful will host this year’s cleanup on Saturday, Jan. 6, starting at 8:30 a.m. Volunteers are asked to register here, but Gossett said they won’t turn people away. Volunteers will meet in the empty lot in front of the Canyon Springs apartment complex at 7700 North Capital of Texas Highway.