Locals outraged after officials remove gnome village from state park

For a short time, Pennsylvania’s Little Buffalo State Park was a gnome safe haven. Thirty-eight gnome homes lined some four kilometres of wooden trail, each dwelling lovingly made by 65-year-old Steve Hoke.

Hoke, a retired prison counsellor, started making the tiny, colourful wooden houses after learning about a similar project in Kansas. He wanted to bring that same magic to his own local park. After receiving the go-ahead from state officials, he began constructing the houses.

Some resembled bird houses attached to trees, while others were more elaborate, with windows, functional doors, balconies, and landscaping. The simplest ones featured just a door hinged to a tree trunk. Many of them had pro-environmental and pro-gnome signs, like “enjoy the forest”, “gnomes are nature’s work”, and “keep the forest clean.”

After word spread, locals and tourists began arriving in droves to catch a glimpse of the whimsical site. The dwellings were such a hit, in fact, The New York Times reported that some families travelled up to three hours to visit the park. Anonymous visitors began adding to Hoke’s original creations, bringing in pint-sized furniture, lucky coins, and actual gnomes.

But the project’s popularity eventually caused its demise.

Last week, officials announced that the gnomes—and their colourful homes—were no longer welcome in the park. They were concerned about the ecological impact of the houses and the surge in visitors.

“We don’t really think it’s a state park kind of thing,” Jason Baker, the park’s manager, said to The New York Times. “We like to have more visitors. We like having people come here. But the experience we’re trying to give is a natural, ecological experience.”

Naturally, people were outraged. So far, 668 of them have signed a petition to keep the gnome neighbourhood intact.

Hoke, who originally started the project as something to do in his spare time now that he’s retired, said he wanted to create a project that would spark the curiosity of young children. “The idea was to get kids out of the house, away from the electronics, and go for a walk.”

Earlier this week, Hoke returned to Little Buffalo State Park to remove the gnomes and the dwellings.

Although the gnomes have been evicted, they seem to be doing well. Based on a video posted on the Facebook page of Hoke’s wife Marion, it looks like the gnomes are still happily together. Perhaps they’ll end up at a park near you.