Patterson Creek Social Club’s ditch tree display means even more this holiday season

One of the many you’ll see along Patterson Creek Drive ... The tree pictured above was decorated by Kelly Urell of Waukon, and was one that went beyond just decorating the tree with its creativity. More than 40 trees along Patterson Creek Drive northwest of Waukon off State Highway 76 have been decorated this year by area families, individuals and organizations in a holiday tradition that continues to grow since it first began 10 years ago. Submitted photo.

Trees celebrating heritage ... The Patterson Creek Social Club tree is done by Andy Schlitter and Maureen Fahey of Waukon and this is a tree that has been decorated almost every year since the ditch tree tradition started 10 years ago. After Christmas they flip the sign and it says, “Irish you a happy St. Paddy’s Day!” Submitted photo.

Trees that give back ... The tree pictured above is called the Giving Tree, and although it’s technically located on adjacent Haymeadow Drive, it’s certainly been a popular addition to the ditch tree tradition. The tree is decorated by Kris and Eaton Coté, and just some of the many toys and fun things remain on it that kids could pick off as a gift as they drive by with their family. Submitted photo.

Trees in memory of loved ones ... Pictured above is one of more than a half dozen memorial trees decorated in memory of loved ones along Patterson Creek Drive. This one is decorated in honor of Tom Baxter by his family and features many of his favorite things, such as the Iowa Hawkeyes, dairy products from his career at Calhoun Creamery, and all things Irish. Submitted photo.

Trees in their honor ... The tree pictured above was decorated by Haylee Hanson of Lansing in honor of teachers. There were also trees in honor of Veterans Memorial Hospital and other front line and essential workers who have risked so much this year during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep doing their job. Submitted photo.

Trees that show their passion ... The tree pictured above was decorated by the Dan and Jane Sivesind family of Waukon. It shows their passion for the dairy industry with ribbons and awards from showing dairy cattle, as well as ear tags and twine string garland. Submitted photo.

by Lissa Blake

During a holiday season that follows the kind of year that 2020 has been, when people likely need something to really lift their spirits, a group of local friends, neighbors and families has found a way to add even more meaning to what has become an annual tradition.
What started out 10 years ago as just a fun way to dress up a few scraggly ditch trees along Patterson Creek Drive, has blossomed into an eclectic display of more than 40 trees decorated by a variety of people in an even wider variety of themes.

“I’m incredibly impressed with the selection this year. There are so many cute, creative, commemorative and comical trees,” said Elizabeth Mahr, a Waukon High School  and Iowa State University graduate.

Mahr is the daughter of Dennis and Kerri Mahr, and grew up living on Patterson Creek Drive. She said she and her mom started out with a couple of trees at first, then opened it up to other members of the Patterson Creek Social Club (PCSC).

“The PCSC is a tight-knit group of friends and family who happen to live along Patterson Creek. We’re not all related, but we’re definitely all family,” said Mahr.

Mahr said in the early years, she and her mom and sometimes some cousins would sneak out and decorate the trees during low traffic times. Eventually others started decorating trees as well.

“Before this year, the most we ever had was maybe 18 trees,” said Mahr.

Mahr, who works as an architectural designer in Rockford, IL, said because 2020 has been such a crappy year, they wanted to do something different with this neighborhood project.

“Everybody always talks about the trees and I had a handful of people asking when they were going to be up. I’m not around as much, so we decided to open it up to the public,” she said.

She said numerous decorators joined in, including Mary Curtin, who drove all the way from Cedar Rapids to trim one of the trees.

Mahr said the response was amazing, with the number of decorated trees reaching a whopping 41 in all. To add to this year’s fun, organizers decided to number the trees and invite people to cast their votes for their favorite. For the first time ever, there will be first- and second-place prizes given to the winners.

Mahr said although many of the whimsical trees have the usual adult beverage or Irish themes, “It feels necessary and right to call out all of the trees in memoriam this year. People decorated so many of the trees in honor of loved ones lost, including Tony Urell, Tom Baxter, Toad Ness, Makaela Ness, Occo Fink, Tom Collins, Brent Johnson, Denise Ward, Jodi Hammell, Ann Klenske Ewing, Lindsey McMillan and all the angels on the gorgeous spirit tree. We love and miss them all so much and I can’t imagine a better way to honor them than a tree full of their favorite items, hobbies and memories. Much love to them all and the families missing them this holiday season.”

She added, “Of course, there are also trees honoring teachers, hospital staff, front line workers, farmers and truckers, and a lot of alcohol-themed trees (but would we really expect anything else out of Patterson Creek?!). People even got solar Christmas lights just for this. And the creativity is off the charts!”

Mahr added, overall, the response to this year’s project, “has been insane.”

“The traffic down there (on Patterson Creek Drive) is just crazy,” she said.

Mahr noted that many spectators have been coming quite a distance to view this year’s display.

“My dad has seen license plates from Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota … We’re definitely making some new friends over this deal.”

The Mahrs recently posted some pictures on their Facebook pages, encouraging people to vote for their favorite trees.

“We’ve had more than 60 shares,” she said.

Mahr said in a world where people are going a little stir crazy due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the idea of venturing out into the country to look at the trees has really taken off.

“It’s a way to social distance, but get out of the house. So many people have reported being down there multiple times. Or we talk to someone who is a friend of a friend of a friend who heard about it and decided to drive down,” she said.

Patterson Creek Drive begins about four miles northwest of Waukon off of State Highway 76. It continues to the north and west, eventually meeting up with Liddiard Bottoms Road and, further north, with Ellingson Bridge Road.

Mahr said she has been “totally overwhelmed by the response to the trees in Patterson Creek this year … I don’t know how anyone could ever pick a favorite but hey, I guess we can try!”

She added, “Overall, I’m just so happy and excited and (what’s the opposite of grinchy?) that this was such a success. I don’t know about the rest of you, but it just feels like a good way to wrap up a crappy year. And I can’t tell you how much it means to me personally when people tell me how much they love it or that they’ve come down multiple times. We’ve had people driving from over an hour away to see them and even further to decorate them! I think that’s what I’m most impressed with - how many people this has brought together. It’s truly incredible.”

She further shared, “I want to say a huge  thank-you to everyone who participated, helped spread the word and the cheer, and just made this so much fun.”

There are two ways to vote for your favorite tree: The first is by visiting Elizabeth Mahr’s Facebook page. The second is by voting in person at the front gate of the Mahr home at 517 Patterson Creek Drive.

“Those (votes in person at the Mahr home) are worth double, so make sure to drive out and see them and vote if you’re able,” she said.

Voting in either manner concludes on New Year’s Eve.

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