NEWPORT, Pa. (WHTM) – Up the stairs and down the trail by the lake at Little Buffalo State Park in Perry County, Steve Hoke surveyed his village.
“This one seems to be really popular,” he said, pointing to a terrace off the trail. He’s proud. “Seems every time I’m out here there’s somebody with that one.”
The development has grown a lot. He’s grown attached.
“It became a total part of me and my wife,” Hoke said, “and kind of what we do during the day. So it’s kind of what retirement was all about for me.”
Hoke will have to find a new way to spend his time. Park management told Hoke the 39 gnome homes he’s built and maintained have to go by the end of the month.
First came a phone call, then a letter from the park manager.
“My heart sunk,” he said. “I’m typically not a real emotional guy, but I was.”
Hoke had permission in December when he started building and installing the small doors at the base of trees and small cabins on stumps.
Now administrators say that decision was wrong, made “in haste,” according to the letter. They worry it’ll harm animals and the natural environment.
“While you may be committed to maintain the area, other parks experienced development of rouge trails, disturbance of rocks and trees, increased litter, and deteriorating articles that were left behind once the novelty of the trail diminished,” the letter states.
“Since I’ve been doing this,” Hoke said, “I haven’t seen a piece of litter in the woods. Not one.”
People do leave knick-knacks in the homes, like furniture or coins. “The fantasy has in fact become a reality for a lot of people,” Hoke said, arguing that interaction draws more people to the park.
Inside the builder’s basement workshop not far from the park, his latest builds sat unused. A pile of scrap wood and unused cedar shingles waited by his furnace.
He pulled out a letter he received from a woman. “I live in Indianapolis,” he read, “approximately 10 hours away.”
She was planning a visit to the park over the summer, an excursion with a friend living in Mexico. She wanted to make the first visit to America interesting.
The woman sent the letter to the park office, and sent Hoke a second copy. She asked that the homes stay.
“I mean, it just continues to reach and reach and reach, which is great,” Hoke said. “It was great.”
Back in the park, Hoke continued his rounds. He doesn’t like the park’s decision, but he understands it.
So for now, he’ll keep posting eviction notices. “I guess I can only hope they change their minds.”