It's part Christmas miracle, part holiday mystery.
About this time every year, for at least the last half-dozen or so, someone has been decorating a small evergreen tree in the foothills above Ogden -- carefully placing ornaments on the branches, draping it in garland and, this year, topping it with a large red snowflake.
The miracle part is that this tradition has survived year-to-year, and that the tree has remained largely unmolested out there in the open. The mystery part is that no one seems to know who does it, or why.
The festive fir tree is on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, just a short hike south of the 27th Street trailhead. It's a mystery that has stumped even long-time users of the hiking trails in the area.
"The annual Christmas tree?" said Mark Benigni, executive director of Weber Pathways. "Yeah, we've heard about it."
Rod Kramer, outreach coordinator for Weber Pathways, remembers the first time he saw it, a year or two ago.
"The first day I walked up there and saw it, I was equally astounded," Kramer said. "It's just this perfect little tree right beside the trail."
So perfect is that little tree, Kramer says, that last year they used it for their Christmas photo on the Weber Pathways Facebook page.
"I don't know its origin, I don't know who decorates it," Kramer said. "But somebody hikes up there, very carefully, taking ornaments to decorate the tree."
Ironically, Kramer says he had a group of Weber State University students who approached him about decorating trees for another holiday.
"They wanted to decorate a trail for Halloween, and conduct a Halloween hike," he said. "I told them I'd discourage it. I don't think decorating public lands is a good idea. But this tree is so quaint ... it's hard to discourage it."
Pete Buttschardt, of Ogden, is a frequent trail user, and spends plenty of time on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail. He's noticed the decorated tree for about six years now.
"I enjoy the tree when I go by it," he said. "It's especially fun when it's snowy."
Buttschardt doesn't know the identity of the culprit, either.
"I don't know who the decorator is," he said. "I thought I did, but it seems like every time I think it's somebody, something comes up that makes me think it's probably not them."
Buttschardt says he's never seen a note or sign on the tree that would hint at its creator. And in past years, the tree started out with just a few ornaments, then seemed to gather more later in the month. He doesn't know if this was the work of the original decorators, or of copycats.
The decorated tree is on private land -- it's just beyond a sign for the TR Guest Ranch -- and that's probably a good thing, according to Kathy Jo Pollock, public affairs specialist with the U.S. Forest Service.
If it were on Forest Service land, Pollock says, "We probably would've asked them to take it down. It would be considered littering."
Pollock admits she's never seen an instance of people decorating a live tree on Forest Service land.
"I can't say people haven't done it, but if they have, we haven't heard about it," she said.
And if they did hear about it?
"We would take it down," Pollock said.
Chris Peterson, owner of the land in question, did not respond to requests for an interview. However, Buttschardt said he's inclined to believe Peterson is not a fan of the tree, based on past experiences with him.
"He didn't like it, and the reason I know is that four or five years ago I sent him an email regarding some trail work we were going to be doing up there," Buttschardt said. "He gave permission for the work, and then said, 'Do you happen to know who decorates that tree up there? That's not "Leave no trace," and if you find out, ask them not to decorate it.' "
Buttschardt says the tree always gets cleaned up at the end of the season, and he hasn't seen any broken or stray ornaments lying around. He also thinks, thus far, the decorating has been tasteful.
"I also think the tree hasn't necessarily been overdone," Buttschardt said. "It's not like they added a blow-up Santa. It doesn't look like the holiday aisle at Walmart. But little kids up hiking the trail, if it's their first time seeing it, it's a nice little surprise."
Contact reporter Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Find him on Facebook at facebook.com/mark.saal.