- Written by Lynda Hudzick Lynda Hudzick
Instead of following the yellow brick road to this magical destination, you will have to travel a portion of the Akron Rail Trail. But the journey is worth it once you come upon the delightful home of Nibbles McGibbles and his merry band of gnome friends.
The brainchild of Akron native Don Reese, this gnome village has become a “rail trail destination and has been visited by thousands of people,” Reese said. “They all say it is the highlight of their trail experience, a place that offers an escape from the hectic world around us and transports them to a place where your imagination can run wild.”
The gnome village grew from the humble beginnings of one tree stump on the hill of Reese’s property that he thought had to be removed before the rail trail was completed.
“Turns out, the stump was as solid as a rock, so I went with plan B and made a little house out of it with a couple of gnomes as residents,” Reese said.
The head gnome in charge, though, is Nibbles McGibbles.
“His life story is simply me recalling what Nibbles himself shared when he first arrived from Austria,” Reese said. “We conducted a thorough background check, which he needed to pass to reside in the village.”
The only trouble Nibbles ever got into, according to Reese, was at “Octoberfest in Zurich back in the 1800s, where an inebriated Nibbles took off his lederhosen and danced down Main Street.”
Even though it was just one stump turned into a home for gnomes, Reese said that every time he was in his backyard, he could hear people laughing and taking photos of the gnome house.
“I thought, why not add another building?” he said. “That unleashed a cascade of ideas, and little by little it became the gnome village.”
Reese, also a professional photographer and artist, has always enjoyed the creative process. The village was just one more way for him to share that creativity, and it continues to provide an opportunity to “put a smile on the faces” of the many people who walk the trail, he said.
“The village, much like my photography, is an outlet to share the creative gifts God has blessed me with.”
He and his wife both enjoy landscaping, so working on the village is a fun way for them to imagine something together.
“I do 99% of everything, except the occasional sign my wife paints for me,” he said. “It is a lot of work keeping things clean and fresh … it’s also extra challenging building things on a hill.”
Everything he has built has begun with a crude drawing.
“I just dive in and build as I go, and it has always worked out,” Reese said. “I come up with the décor and do all the upkeep myself. Unfortunately, though, I am getting older and less energetic, but although I have had offers of help, I like being a one-man show where success or failure falls directly on me alone.”
Reese has heard countless stories over the years from people who have expressed “how my village has lifted their spirits,” he said. “I also have had people tell me about a loved one who passed that just loved coming to the village. A little while back I was going to close, but a father stopped while I was working to tell me he reads a new gnome story to his 2-year-old son every night because he loves visiting so much!”
Spring brings pops of pastel colors and whimsical touches to Reese’s village.
“I usually have a bunny wedding in the hobbit hole and a few springy items, and my dragonflies may be up,” Reese said.
Other village features for spring and summer include bicycles, hot air balloons, large flowers, and the life-size fairy Alexandrite.
“You never know what you might see at the gnome village,” Reese said.
The other seasons are well represented in the village too.
Autumn brings its beautiful colors and crisp air to the tiny residents. Reese has also created a Veterans Day tribute, where he lined the trail with luminaries.
“I had a patriotic display set up with music playing, some chocolate treats, and a small fire pit for warmth,” Reese said. “I noticed one lady was actually crying, and she told me she lost someone special in the war, and the tribute meant so much to her.”
And, of course, the gnomes have gotten in the holiday spirit come December.
“I used to do a Christmas display where Santa and his elves would be working in the hobbit hole,” Reese said.
“I also had a mailbox for Santa letters, and kids would amaze me with their notes. One little girl listed several toys she wanted but wrote that if her list was too long, please make sure to take care of other kids in need first.”
The gnome village has featured some funny displays as well, and Reese enjoys playing with those visitors who are fooled by his antics.
“I made a tiny doghouse with a huge chain and a huge tail coming out of the house. I said the guard dog was a mix of Chihuahua and Great Dane, and despite my ridiculous clues, some still believed we had a real guard dog living in there,” Reese said.
Although he could never have dreamed that his little gnome village, overseen by Nibbles McGibbles himself, would have become such a sought-out destination for those who visit the trail, Reese is glad it provides an opportunity for people to unplug, to get outside and spend time with others while enjoying the fruits of his labors.
“I encourage everyone to reduce their phone time, social media, etc., and actually strive to be a positive force in the world with the gifts you have been given,” he said. “I look back at prior generations and see what they created by having passion for something greater than themselves, and it is mind-blowing what men and women have achieved.
“We are no different in our potential, but we have to be careful, or the myriad distractions we face can rob us of the limited time we all have.”
If You Go:
Don Reese’s gnome village is located along the Akron Rail Trail, approximately halfway between Main Street and Fulton Street in Akron. The closest parking is along Front Street, which runs parallel to the trail.
On the cover: Don Reese with one of the colorful “dragonflies” that will signal the spring season in his gnome village. Photo by Crystle Eby Photography.