Hey Tinkerbell, Get Your Fairy House Up to Code or It’s Coming Down

Clare Durst was walking through the woods on Monhegan Island when she discovered the cutest little “fairy garden” you’ve ever seen.

Lovingly built out of twigs and decorated with pennies, seashells and piles of uprooted moss, the house at its center stood about 4 feet tall—or five stories, in fairy scale.

Ms. Durst did what any law-abiding citizen would do: She demolished the structure and tossed the twigs, moss and shells into the woods. The pennies, she pocketed for donation to Monhegan Associates Inc., the group that manages the island’s private nature reserve off the coast of Maine.

The fairy house wasn’t up to code.

Monhegan and a growing number of other environmentally conscious locales are fighting the scourge of fairy gardens, miniature habitats built by children and young-at-heart adults to attract tiny mythical creatures.

Typically they include a pint-size house with a path leading to its entrance and surrounded with small plants. The houses can range from rustic lean-tos handmade from twigs, bark and pebbles to store-bought plastic castles accompanied by LED lights, artificial plants, colorful glass beads and a family of fairy figurines.

On Monhegan, it is easy to run afoul of the regulations, which forbid picking living plants or using anything brought from the shore. No items are to be used “from your pockets,” including coins, food and anything plastic.

It is also easy to run afoul of Ms. Durst, a retired computer consultant who, like several other like-minded vigilantes, calls herself a “stomper” and has crushed many a fairy house over the years. “Some of them are terrible, they have pennies and pieces of plastic and are too obviously placed,” she says. “The good ones are made from natural materials and almost hidden.”

Last fall, Tinker Nature Park in Henrietta, N.Y., posted signs listing its fairy-trail rules, including “glitter is litter to the animals,” and “stay on the trail, you don’t want to step on a fairy or get poison ivy.”

Its fairy trail started four years ago when a local artist asked if she could install some of her fairy houses in the wooded area inside the 68-acre park, named for the Tinker family that lived on the property for six generations, not the famous fairy in Peter Pan.

A portion of a trail near the park’s playground was designated for the artist’s 30 or so fairy houses. “I really didn’t think there was an interest in this, but then it took on a life of its own,” says Tim Pratt, education and programming director for Tinker Nature Park. “People drive hours to see this and I don’t get it, to be honest with you.”

Visitors started erecting their own fairy houses in the woods and embellishing existing ones, leaving behind plastic houses and fairies, toy cars, small soldier and wrestler figures, glass beads and lots of glitter (the favored imitation of fairy dust), which Mr. Pratt would scoop up with his hands each morning. Hikers started wandering off the path to get a closer look at the fairy houses, encountering poison ivy and compacting the soil.

Photo: Julie Cole