Breckenridge trail troll isn’t out of the woods yet after surviving calls for removal
Breckenridge’s rock-stacking, trailside troll avoided execution Tuesday, but that doesn’t mean the 15-foot sculpture will necessarily live out the rest of its natural life in the Wellington neighborhood.
As Mayor Eric Mamula introduced the agenda item at a Tuesday work session meeting, a brief exchange summed up the strong feelings and frustration the troll has caused since a handful of homeowners asked the town to remove him earlier this month.
“He has a name,” Councilman Jeffrey Bergeron told Mamula, who had previously expressed his desire to remove the sculpture.
“I’m not going to call him by his name,” the mayor came back before complaining that the troll has sparked more conversation than Breckenridge’s multimillion-dollar water plant and broadband projects.
For those who love him, the troll known as “Isak Heartstone” has been a wonderful addition, drawing thousands of visitors to explore the wilderness in Breckenridge and discover something extraordinary.
The 15-foot sculpture, made of reclaimed wood, was crafted about a mile up the Wellington Trail by Danish artist Thomas Dambo for the Breckenridge International Festival of Arts in August. The plan has been to leave the troll on the trail as long as he can withstand the elements and isn’t vandalized.
For some of the nearby homeowners, however, the troll has been nothing but a monster, generating large crowds on a daily basis that have become much more than a nuisance.
These homeowners have described a loss of privacy, rampant illegal parking, widespread littering and dog waste, excessive noise, circling cars and other troll-related problems in the Wellington neighborhood.
Additionally, verbal confrontations between some of the angry homeowners and troll seekers who venture off trail, park in the wrong place or get lost in the neighborhood have been reported.
Fueling the fire
Widespread social media posts have fueled the steady stream of foot and vehicle traffic going to see the troll. Extensive media coverage, both when the troll first came to Breckenridge and again when the homeowners asked for him to be removed, has only ramped up that traffic. Many people thought the crowds would die down after the summer arts festival, but that has not yet happened.
In response to the homeowners’ complaints, a “troll task force” comprised of people from the town’s many departments and other organizations met ahead of Tuesday’s council meeting to form a plan that might ease the stress those homeowners have been feeling.
Much of these efforts — including stepped-up police enforcement, new fencing and signage, and better public education — have already been put in place, and town staff said more will come.
A citizen-led survey revealed the fiercest opposition to keeping the troll came from the residents who live closest to the art installation. It was previously misreported that the town issued the survey, but the results, distributed to town staff and officials with BreckCreate, were brought up Tuesday.
According to town staff, the neighborhood generally favors the sculpture, but those most directly impacted by the crowds have expressed the strongest opposition to the troll’s presence.
For council’s consideration, town staff had laid out three options: either take the troll down, move him somewhere else or leave the troll in place for now with new measures designed to help reduce some of the issues.
Removing the troll might not be possible, said Robb Woulfe, president and CEO of BreckCreate, which put on the summer arts festival. Should the town decide to relocate the troll, Woulfe said the artist’s contract gives him a say in where the troll could go. Putting Isak Heartstone — who’s supposed to be the reward for exploring nature — in the middle of town next to a grocery store probably wouldn’t fly, Woulfe guessed.
But the artist is aware of the troubles his troll has caused and remains open to exploring other options, Woulfe said. Still, identifying such a place where the troll doesn’t create other problems could prove challenging. It also remains unclear if the sculpture can be taken apart and reassembled.
“We just don’t know if it’s possible,” Woulfe said. “It’s not as easy as ‘let’s just take it down and put it up over (there)’; it may not withstand the de-installation.”
That really left council with two clear options: removal or mitigation. Five members opted to take staff’s recommendation and target mitigation measures over the troll’s annihilation.
Mayor Mamula and Councilwoman Erin Gigliello stuck up for the homeowners. At the same time, the other five council members couldn’t ignore Isak Heartstone’s many fans and said he’s even become a point of “pride” for the community.
“I do know it has impacted negatively a lot of people from that side of the ’hood, but I would also have to mention it has positively impacted thousands of people that have gone to see the thing,” Bergeron said. “I think you have to recognize, yeah it probably sucks for a lot of folks in the general vicinity, but on the positive side, I think it’s enriched the lives of, maybe just temporarily, a bunch of folks that come to our community and are the lifeblood or our economy.”
While council went against the homeowners’ wishes in deciding 5-2 to keep the hugely popular troll on the Wellington Trail — at least for now — council also went 4-3 on telling town staff to continue exploring whether moving the troll is in fact possible and, if so, what it might take to move him.
“I’d put Isak on life support through the winter,” Bergeron said, adding that if things don’t improve, the troll’s lifespan could get cut short when the town revisits the topic after the winter season.
‘Careless comes to mind’
During council’s troll discussion, one man in the audience raised his hand hoping to speak, but was denied the opportunity. After the work session, in which public comments are not typically allowed, three homeowners returned later in the night during the regular council meeting and had a chance to address the elected officials.
They were a married couple and the couple’s neighbor. All three delivered a harsh tongue lashing as they lectured the five council members who supported keeping the troll and, at times, demanded answers to sharply pointed questions.
“I’m trying to keep myself together, but I’m not sure the people who voted against this today understand how much this really impacts us,” one of the residents told council before thanking Mamula and Gigliello for their support. “Frankly, I felt like the other responses from council were blatantly careless or maybe just misinformed. I’m not sure, but careless comes to mind.”
He said “thousands of people a day” are taking the trail that’s only 20 yards behind his house, giving those people a direct view into his daughter’s bedroom.
“I doubt that if it were your house, you wouldn’t feel the same way,” he continued. “Correct me if I’m wrong, anyone? I don’t know if this (meeting) is interactive, but am I wrong?”
Bergeron told the homeowner he was, but the mayor prevented any further back-and-forth on council’s part, opting instead to let the irate homeowners vent their frustrations before leaving chambers.
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