“This is why we can’t have nice things!” If that infamous cry of an exasperated parent echoed inside your cranium while reading the Nov.12 story about handcrafted wooden ski trail signs being stolen — again! — in Piedmont Heights, you weren’t alone.
For some 50 years, Duluthians Glen Nelson and Jerry Nowak have been carving, creating, and putting up the whimsical placards along the Piedmont Ski Trail, “just to put a smile on someone's face or to break the monotony,” as Nelson told the News Tribune. Reading “home stretch,” “aching back,” “the plunge,” “the butt stops here,” and more, the signs have been delighting and brightening the outings of skiers for generations.
But during a recent walk, as the Nov. 12 story reported, Nelson counted 17 of 57 signs missing, likely yanked from the nails that had been holding them to trailside trees and cowardly squirrelled off to decorate backyard gardens, rec rooms, or other private spaces. Something meant to be enjoyed by all pilfered for the pleasure of a private few, in other words.
And it wasn’t the first time. Last winter, about five signs went missing, believed to also have been stolen. And this spring, when Nelson went out on the trail, two more signs were gone, he told the News Tribune for another story in March.
The thefts are an icy slap to the face for Nelson, 84, and Nowak, 96, who, at their ages, are unlikely to replace the signs another time. The dastardly deeds of a few threaten to ruin for everyone what had been a kind, community-minded, very cool, and very Duluth thing to do.
"I'm getting down toward the end of my rope,” Nelson said of his days with Nowak posting the signs in the fall and removing them in the spring. Last winter they turned the task over to the Duluth Parks and Recreation Department. But parks and rec, like other city departments, is struggling to maintain staff and do all it did before the COVID-19 pandemic.
All of Duluth can be at the end of our collective rope over the selfish and petty actions of a few stealing from the rest of us this unique and rich feature, tradition, and history.
Sadly, the signs that are gone are likely gone for good, but there are still dozens out there, each one a day-brightener for the cross country skiers who zip by — and who make the decision not to steal the creations.
As for those who apparently are making a different sort of decision, as Nelson said in the March story, “Be a good neighbor and leave the signs alone.” Amen to that.
“Over the years many people have thanked us, as it has given the trail a trace of character,” Nelson also said. “Skiers come from all over to see these signs, and they like and appreciate them, with many enjoying the smiles and chuckles along the way. … It’s fun to see people enjoying them.”
Sure is. That’s kind of the point of being able to have nice things.