A city of Phoenix committee is taking comments on whether the city should allow a Christmas tree on top of Camelback Mountain every December.
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John Cessey brought forth a plan and asked the Parks and Recreation board to work with him on bringing a tree that would meet their needs and the community’s, but the board voted to uphold its existing policy banning placed monuments.
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John Cressey, aka “Camelback Santa,” hikes to the top of Camelback Mountain a dozen times in December, including on Christmas Day, handing out candy canes or coal and posing for photos 1,300 feet above the Valley floor. David Wallace/azcentral.com
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A group of about 50 hikers carried a 15-foot Christmas tree to the top of Camelback Mountain on Nov. 25, 2016, in Phoenix. The Beverly on Main/Special for azcentral.com
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The Christmas tree conflict on Camelback Mountain
Camelback Mountain’s holiday tree barred from top during winter
Camelback Santa spreads Christmas cheer 1,300 feet above Valley floor
Hikers put Christmas tree on Camelback Mountain
Nearly six months after controversy initially broke out over whether a holiday tree should be allowed on the summit of Camelback Mountain, a city of Phoenix committee voted unanimously Monday night recommending the city ban the tradition altogether.
“I was totally surprised, as was everyone else there,” said John Cressey of Scottsdale, who is known as “Camelback Santa” for dressing up, handing out candy canes and posing for photos on the mountain every weekend in December.
About a dozen people attended the meeting to the show support for the tree, Cressey said, and he is aware of about 70 people who e-mailed the city in support. Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department spokesman Gregg Bach said three people spoke in support at the meeting.
The Phoenix Sonoran Preserves and Mountain Parks/Preserves Committee will give its recommendation to the Parks and Recreation Board “to uphold the existing policy that prohibits people leaving items behind on city trails and trail summits, and not to make an exception for a holiday tree on Camelback Mountain,” Bach said.
“That policy is in place for public safety and to help preserve the land around city trails.”
The board will make a final decision on the matter within the next couple of months.
Tamping down a recent tradition
For about eight years, people have put ornaments on cactuses and bushes to celebrate the holidays along the popular hiking spot, and various groups have placed small Christmas trees at the top.
For the last four years, Joel Borch has helped organize a public group to buy and carry a large tree to the top. Last year was the first time the group has faced pushback from the city.
“The parks department showed a bunch of photos of litter and claim this is from the tree,” Borch said. “This is like saying we shouldn’t allow marathons because cups are thrown on the ground.”
Cressey said the committee “clearly were not listening to the will of the people.
“Phoenix parks and hikers deserve a holiday tree. Hopefully the decision makers at the next hearing will be reasonable and not look at a policy as black and white,” Cressey said.
“They should look at the spirit of the founders of Phoenix and remember government’s role, in part, is to promote happiness and community.”
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