A fairy forest pops up in downtown Juneau every year – but we can’t tell you when

In Sarah Niecko’s fairy forest, the village of Flonkerton on July 7, 2023. (Photo by Yvonne Krumrey/KTOO)

If they were lucky, Juneau residents wandering the Behrends neighborhood may have stumbled upon something magic last week. Every year, a fairy forest pops up ever so briefly along Evergreen Avenue. 

This year, visitors to the forest were greeted by a fairy tollbox.  

“Fairies do not use money, leave your piggy bank at home,” it read, accompanied by a list of acceptable toll offerings like shells, drawings and feathers. Then, down a long, winding path — little houses, villages and creatures sprung up among the trees. 

These designs are all the handiwork of Sarah Neicko, a University of Alaska Southeast professor of behavioral health. She was inspired to make a fairy forest when she bought her house 5 years ago. 

She says she already had an idea to build one, but something cemented that decision only a few days after she moved in.

In Sarah Niecko’s fairy forest. July 7, 2023. (Photo by Yvonne Krumrey/KTOO)

“I hear this little voice outside by the pond. And it says, ‘This is where the fairies live.’ And I pick up my window and it’s my neighbor and their little friend,” Niecko said. “And I looked at my husband, and I’m like, ‘We’re doing that fairy forest. And I’m doing it big.’” 

That voice came from Lylli Race. As Niecko started building the forest, Race quickly became involved, recommending additions of what she thought was missing. 

“You’ll say ‘I think they need a theater.’ And so we create a theater,” Niecko said, plotting at her table with Race, who is now 9 years old.

“And then we created a post office,” Race said.

In Sarah Niecko’s fairy forest. July 7, 2023. (Photo by Yvonne Krumrey/KTOO)

They wrote a little book about the forest together, following the story of a fairy named Petal who came to the forest from a mythical land far away.

“Once upon a time, there was a fairy named Petal. She lived in a land called Avalor where the sun never took a nap,” Race said, reading from the book.” When she was just a wee fairy, no longer than a gumdrop, her Nana and Papa told her the legend of Juneau. This was a magical land where stars twinkled when the sun went to sleep. Rainbows danced around in the sky. And soft raindrops tickled fairy wings.”

Sometimes, Niecko will add to the fairy forest on the fly, based on comments she hears from visitors. 

“I heard a little kid yesterday go, ‘Oh, there’s the school. Where’s the teacher?’ So I made a little like UAS graduation gnome this morning just to put there,” Niecko said.

She made scenes dedicated to the couple she bought the house from, Mark and Ester, like Mark’s Park. The park is fenced in, with stepping stones and a gnome with its own Pepsi.

“So he will always have a presence in there. He’s 90 now. And so I do owe a lot of just gratitude for them for being caretakers of this land for 50 years,” Niecko said.

Some of the houses have laundry lines, furniture and fairies and gnomes living in them. Race said her favorite is the cat house, complete with mini boxes of litter.

Niecko said she saves household trash to turn into buildings and furniture for the forest.

“Everything I tried to use is recycled. So these pieces, they’re number five plastic, and can’t recycle them,” Niecko said. “And so I decided, ‘well, I’m just gonna make houses and things out of them so that they don’t go into landfill.’”

When her water filter broke, she turned it into a bright red house. She said a wall of her basement is completely full of all the fairy garden stuff she’s made over the years, and it takes her 16 hours to set it up. The reactions she gets from the community make it all worth it. 

“So the children just have a place to come and explore. I love sitting up there and listening to them, like oohs and ahhs and just hearing the fun and play,” Niecko said. “Because it’s just not often that kids get to do these kinds of just fun little things and make memories, you know?”

The forest has been taken down for the year, but Niecko says to stay tuned to see when it pops up again next summer. She doesn’t like to advertise it, though. 

“I think there’s something special about ‘When is the fairy forest going to happen?’” Niecko said. “It kind of adds to the mystique.”

One hint? It’ll be a sunny week when she sets it all up again.

Yvonne Krumrey

Local News Reporter, KTOO

Juneau is built on hidden and assumed layers of power and access, influencing how we interact with identity, with the law and with each other. I bring you stories of the gaps in access to power, and those who are working to close those gaps.

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