HUNTERSVILLE, NC — The Christmas spirit has come early this year in Huntersville, North Carolina, taking root on a strip of grass along the side of a back road. In perhaps what could go down as the smallest — and oddest — community holiday tree in the town’s history, a weed growing through an orange traffic cone has steadily gained a following and, in the process, illuminated the heart of the community.
"The weed grew out of a cone and we were like, ‘how lazy can you be not to move the cone,’" said firefighter Bill Suthard, the public information officer for the Huntersville Fire Department. "And then it grew. And we would see it out by the station and we were like, ‘that thing’s becoming a tree.’ Then somebody decorated it for the holidays," he said.
Cone Weed, as the unlikely Christmas symbol was named, erupted onto the social media scene in mid-November, when the nearly year-old weed growing across the road from the Huntersville Fire Station received it first decoration.
"Firefighters are serious pranksters and they have some time on their hands on occasion," Suthard said. "We noticed the weed was growing and we may or may not have assisted in its growth."
What started out a prank ultimately ignited something in the community.
By Nov. 13, Cone Weed attracted tinsel, lights, wrapped presents and even a festive holiday yard sign. Perhaps with momentum like that, it seems only natural that it would end up with its own T-shirt design and social media hashtag campaign. Then came the steady stream of cars taking photos of it, kids stopping by the firehouse to drop off ornaments, plates of cookies and signs. A country singer from Charlotte, NC, wrote a song about it.
"Until that happened, we had absolutely no idea how many people in the community liked it," Suthard said. "It just took off."
Then, Cone Weed began to give back to its community.
"A local graphic designer created a shirt for sale," Huntersville Fire tweeted Nov. 14. "We reached out to them this morning & discussed it. HFD is big on serving our community & they agree; donating 100% of ALL proceeds to HopeMatch.org."
In seven days, 950 T-shirts and items were sold with the Cone Weed design, raising $14,600 in charitable donations for needy families in the community.
Not everyone gets it, he added. Some in the community have questioned the fervor. That’s OK, says Suthard, who sees a bigger picture. "It’s not the Cone Weed, it’s what’s happening around it," he said.
For the longtime firefighter, it’s not a surprise. A couple years ago, a family lost everything but the clothes they wore to bed, he said. "Within 24 hours, they had a car donated," he said, and so many clothes were donated that they had to tell folks to stop.
While Cone Weed has tapped into that community goodness, its story is a saga not without a dramatic twist. Days after hitting the limelight, Cone Weed disappeared from it’s roadside perch along Beatties Ford Road.
The firefighters pieced together quickly what happened. "Residents reported seeing a road crew in a yellow truck remove the cone and all the decorations," Huntersville Fire Department tweeted Nov. 20. "We did not see it happen and no one stopped by the fire station to tell us they were removing it." A few decorations remained scattered behind, which fire crews rehung on what was left of the weed.
Within hours of its disappearance, a DOT crew returned the traffic cone and a remnants of what they collected from the roadside. Firefighters put her back together, but on the other side of the street, near the fire department where they could keep a better watch.
"Now that it’s gone, I don’t think we’ve lost anything," Suthard told Patch immediately after her disappearance. "Even though it’s gone, I think we can still spread that hope and that message," Suthard said. "We always knew we had an amazing community. I just don’t think the rest of the neighbors realize that the people to their left and right are such good people," he said.
"I think they’re realizing it now."
Sad news from the #Ville. #ConeWeed is gone. Residents reported seeing a road crew in a yellow truck remove it this morning. We did not see anything. We found a few decorations scattered along the ground; so we rehung those. We’re looking into what happened… #OneTownOneWeed pic.twitter.com/Nt9utP3wIj— Huntersville Fire (@Huntersville_FD) November 20, 2017
Photo courtesy of the Huntersville Fire Department