Loop 360 Christmas decorations spark controversy

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — There’s a renewed debate among people who drive by Loop 360 – should people decorate the trees along Loop 360? 

Since November, many people reached out to KXAN saying some people were taking the ornaments and garlands off the trees.

We found in one family’s situation, their way of keeping their son’s memory alive was taken down. 

“It’s not as raw, but it’s still hard,” said Jay Holtz. “I hate going into the store this time of year.”

Jay and Melanie Holtz’ son Matt Arellano died in 2014. He was just 23 years old. 

“That first Christmas was exactly 6 months after Matt passed away,” Melanie Holtz said.

To try to get through the holidays without their son, Jay and Melanie decided to deliver meals to firefighters.

“It was a real good thing for me because it kept me busy leading all the up to Christmas,” Melanie said. “I didn’t have to think about it. I didn’t have to be in malls where I’m hearing ‘the most wonderful time of year’ because it’s not for us.”

On Christmas Eve, we caught up with Jay and Melanie as their delivered boxes of food to Station 18 on Berkman Drive in east Austin. 

“We see the same guys year after year. I see new faces. But the smiles are still the same,” Melanie explained.

Another tradition that began after Matt’s passing was decorating a tree on Loop 360.

Jay told KXAN they don’t decorate inside their home, but they’ve been coming back year after year since Matt’s death to Loop 360.

“It’s important to me that people don’t forget Matt,” Melanie said.

“Those are our memories because we don’t get new memories,” Jay said.

Earlier this month, they found out, Matt’s tree was bare after they decorated it.

“I didn’t have that red light, so I wasn’t able to stop. I’m like are his ornaments gone?” Melanie explained. “My brain is like processing it. It’s empty. Somebody has stolen everything.”

The Holtz redecorated the tree, and just a few day ago, they found out who had taken the ornaments down.

“In the last 5 years, every year, I noticed a garland or ornaments that end up in the water or blown  about in these places,” said Kellen Burke.

Burke wrote and sent a message to Melanie a few days ago explaining that he was concerned about litter.

“When I see trash in the watershed, when I see trash on the greenbelt, when I see trash in Bull Creek, it breaks my heart,” he said. “We have wind storms. We have rain storms. We have snow storms. This is Texas. It’s very unpredictable weather. There’s no way we can pick everything up.”

The trees are on land that’s owned by the state. When we reached out to the Department of Transportation, they told us in the past, they have gotten complaints about litter from the trees, but not to the point where they have to draw the line and intervene. They said they rely on people to come back after the holidays to pick up the decorations. 

When we checked with the Texas Parks and Wildlife, the department said the ornaments haven’t been much of a concern for wildlife. 

The Holtz said they secure their ornaments with wire twist ties.

Burke promised he won’t take their decorations down again this year. 

Austin Police said since the decorations are being left there, no theft is happening if they’re taken away.

No matter your view, every year there’s a big effort by Austinites to help clean up after the holidays. The group, Keep Austin Beautiful, sponsors a volunteer cleanup day.

This year’s cleanup event will be on a Saturday morning, January 5th.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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