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If you hear the tinkling of chimes and see a shimmer on boughs of green near the top of Waterworks Hill, walk a little closer.

Go ahead. George Ybarra, a metal sculptor who does much outdoor installation work, wants you to share in the festivities, the joy of the mountain.

"For this particular Christmas tree, I just again wanted to share in the season of the holidays and be able to give something back to the hikers and people who frequent the North Hills because the trail systems up there are so amazing," Ybarra said.

On Tuesday, he and his little girl, Zora, 10, added some more ornaments to the tree, one Ybarra had selected for the occasion. The small, round pine is a little ways off the trail, but it's not so far away it melts into the landscape.

It's the second year Ybarra has decorated a tree, but the Northside resident and artist has been walking up Waterworks ever since the peace sign was painted on a telephone relay tower on the hill. In 2001, the sign came down, but its footings are still in place on the way to the summit, and Ybarra saw an opportunity in the gap.

"After they took down the peace sign, I was kind of inspired about having these kind of art objects up in the North Hills," he said.

At first, he bolted art to fence posts, and then last year he decided to decorate a Christmas tree. He selected the one at the top of the Orange Street switchbacks, and he and Zora twisted aluminum into metal spirals for ornaments.

"It was real fun for her to work with me on that project 'cause I always like to do a craft project over the holidays," Ybarra said.

A group of ladies who walk Waterworks liked the tree, and they brought up ornaments and added to the display, too. Soon after Jan. 1, Ybarra cleared out the ornaments, and the Christmas tree returned to its simple, unadulterated glory.

A few months later, Ybarra began planning for this year's tree. For at least six months, he and Zora collected the lids from olive cans to use as decorations.

"Every time you made tacos, you saved the olive lid," Ybarra said.

One side of the lid shows an olive, and Ybarra liked the notion olives grow on trees, and the lids would show the fruit. He and his daughter decided to give the other side of the lid special treatment as well.

"We chose to paint the backs of the olive can lids to add a little bit more flair and more of that shimmer with the light reflection," Ybarra said.

Now, 48 lids hang and twist from the branches, and last weekend, he added a fitting topper to the tree, a peace sign. The decorating will be complete when he senses his work is done, or when others are finished adding their own touches.

"I'm just trying to give something to the hikers who frequent the North Hills," Ybarra said.

Once he's done, he'll move on to other projects, little and big. He'll make a gingerbread house with his daughter, for one, and he'll continue adding photos to the Facebook page Missoula North Hills so people can experience the beauty of the landscape even if they can't go up in person.

"People would oftentimes tell me how they have a hip problem or knee injury and they're not able to hike up the hill," Ybarra said.

This spring and summer, Ybarra also will work on Perseverance and Passage, a steel sculpture of 28 feet that will stand in Silver Park. Ybarra was selected to do the installation out of 40 artists in the city's Percent for Art program.

"I'm so excited for that project," he said.

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Higher Education Reporter

Higher education / University of Montana reporter for the Missoulian.