That’s a no to ‘ho, ho, ho’: Committee rejects Christmas tree on Camelback Mountain

Hikers carry a 6-foot-tall evergreen up the Cholla side of Camelback Mountain on Black Friday last year as part of a Phoenix holiday tradition. (Photo by Emily Blume/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – A nearly decade-old practice of hauling a Christmas tree to the top of Camelback Mountain may be halted, with a Phoenix committee saying a need to leave the recreational area pristine triumphs over tradition.

A city mountain-preserves committee recommended against the practice after several people who were passionate about the tradition advocated to keep it. John Cressey, dressed in vibrant red and white as Camelback Santa, urged the committee to follow the wishes of thousands of Facebook fans “to continue this very lovely and unique Phoenix tradition.”

He wasn’t so jolly after the Phoenix Sonoran Preserves and Mountain Parks Preserves Committee rejected the idea.

Gregg Bach, spokesman for the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department, said the committee members prefer to adhere to the city’s “leave no trace policy” that emphasizes the importance of leaving public sites clean.

“We have an obligation just to enforce the preserve land that we have,” Bach said. “We are stewards of that land and have an obligation as well to public safety.”

One committee member said a cigarette was left on the holiday tree, leading to fears of fire danger. Others said trash was left near the site.

The tradition calls for hikers to bring a tall evergreen tree to the top of Camelback in north Phoenix during the holiday season, then decorate it. After Thanksgiving Day last year, hikers carried a tree up the mountain that was cut in half by the next morning. Hikers later brought up a second tree only to be stopped by park rangers. A public outcry led city officials to allow the tree to be perched on the summit.

But the tradition’s fate in 2017 had yet to be decided. Seven months before the winter holiday, advocates are fighting for a Christmas tree on Camelback.

The committee’s recommendation is expected to go before the Parks and Recreation board in this summer for a final decision.

Cressey said he will march in front of City Hall, in the middle of summer if he has to, to protest the recommendation.

“Ho, ho, ho,” Cressey said. “I am fighting for you…and your right to have Christmas in the Phoenix park.”

John Cressey, who calls himself Camelback Santa, tries to convince a city committee to convince to allow a holiday tree on Camelback Mountain again this upcoming year. The committee recommended they stick to a city policy of “leave no trace.” (Photo by Emily Blume/Cronkite News)