NELSON COUNTY, KENTUCKY (WDKY)– Bardstown has a small-town charm that’s well-documented. And at Christmas-time, the courthouse square and downtown shops are dressed in holiday style. The large tree in the roundabout is the center of attention. But it’s another tree, three miles outside of town, that has been at the center of a mystery for more than a decade.
Kim Huston, president of the Nelson County Economic Development Agency, says the tree is a frequent topic of conversation. “No one knew who put it up or when it went up.”
We found out.
The tree was first noticed in the summer of 2008, when someone decided to spruce up a cedar tree along the Bluegrass Parkway. Still today. its branches are trimmed in tinsel, full of bows, bells and birds that swing in the breeze every time a car blows past.
The sly guy behind the roadside attraction is Don Fulford, who now lives in Perryville, Missouri.
He told WDKY’s Marvin Bartlett, “It was pretty routine for me. I’d pull over in that curve and walk on over. If somebody did come by, I’d just hide behind the tree until they went by.”
Back then, Don commuted to work early every morning from Elizabethtown to Versailles. He had some old ornaments in his car, destined for the dump, but the tree caught his eye. He stopped almost every day over the course of month at around 5 a.m. to place decorations on the tree.
Don said he remembered an old story about a man who left his troubles on a tree every night instead of taking them home with him. So, he named the ornaments after problems such as stress worry and left them by the side of the road.
“It’s such a simple thing but I hope it inspires others.”
Over the years, Don’s sneakiness branched out to other people who wanted to make sure the tree sparkles year-round. He first learned he had helpers about a year after his ornaments went up.
“I’m driving and I look over and there are presents and more garland and lights and I just started smiling, “he said. “I read a little later on that some wonderful people had decorated it for a friend who was dying of cancer who would probably never see Christmas again.”
Now, the tree often gets new decorations for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day or the Fourth of July. Don says it’s no longer his tree– it belongs to everybody.
The tree has become a symbol of hope, and Bardstown’s economic development president says a symbol of small-town charm.
“A Christmas tree at the entrance to town, whether it’s Christmas or any other time of year, tells about the spirit we have in our community and the spirit that lives on,” Huston said.
What if road crews decide to clear the decorations off the tree or cut it down?
“They wouldn’t dare,” Huston said. “They know people would hunt them down.”
The tree was about six feet tall when Don first decorated it. It’s now three times that size and no one can reach high enough to put decorations at the top.
“Never in a million years did I dream it would still be around in 2020,” Don said. “I don’t mind if that ends up being my legacy. It’ll be OK.”
He was reluctant to come forward and admit he was the original decorator because he liked that there was a sense of wonder about the tree. But Don also realized by telling his story, other people might be encouraged to do something that makes a connection with others.
“I hope someone sees that tree and says, ‘You know what. I have a long time to be on this road. I’ll give a call to someone I haven’t talked to in a long time.'”
The tree has definitely become a landmark, at mile marker 18 on the northbound side of the Bluegrass Parkway. It causes weary travelers to look for glimpses of joy, even at 70 miles per hour.