Breckenridge officials celebrate evicted troll’s spring homecoming
Evicted last fall, Breckenridge’s beloved trailside troll will move back into town this spring, occupying a new location in Illinois Gulch that was handpicked for the hugely popular wood sculpture.
Danish artist Thomas Dambo built the rock-stacking troll along the Wellington Trail — which runs directly behind a cluster of nearby homes — in Breckenridge as part of a summer arts festival in August.
The plan was to leave the troll, a unique reward for venturing into the woods, in place as long as the sculpture wasn’t vandalized and withstood the elements, which the artist has said would be about three years.
Those designs were scuttled, however, when a handful of residents with homes on the Wellington Trail felt the strain of intense troll traffic after the roughly 15-foot creature came to life. Literally tens of thousands of people came to see the troll before it was removed last November, with elected officials citing safety concerns as the primary reason for taking the troll down.
“We’ve had trail art before, but this piece of art went viral,” said Councilwoman Wendy Wolfe, who originally supported keeping the troll on the Wellington Trail but was outvoted. “None of us had any idea it would do that.”
Dambo named his creation Isak Heartstone in recognition of local schoolchildren who helped the artist build the sculpture and gave Dambo a heart-shaped stone for its centerpiece.
Announced on Monday during an open house at the Breckenridge Recreation Center, town leaders said Dambo will return May 5 to rebuild “a reimagined version” of the sculpture using some of the original pieces saved during the deconstruction process.
An open records request for Dambo’s contract with the town revealed Breckenridge has agreed to pay him $20,000 to rebuild the sculpture and reimburse Dambo and his assistants up to $5,000 in expenses.
Officials with Breckenridge Creative Arts, which organized the summer arts festival and brought Dambo in to build the troll, have said the artist received a $40,000 commission the first time around.
The build should take about seven to eight work days, according to the contract. Just like last summer, the town is seeking volunteers to help complete the project.
“I like the location,” said Beth Groundwater, who’s lived in Breckenridge since 1991. She helped build the first sculpture with her husband and plans to do so again.
How did the troll task force land on Illinois Gulch? Well, Summit County officials weren’t interested in the troll, town staff didn’t want to involve the U.S. Forest Service and that left the sculpture needing to be relocated inside town limits, Breckenridge town manager Rick Holman said.
Many people offered suggestions and the task force vetted those options and more before deciding that Illinois Gulch offered the most pros and the fewest cons.
“We know what was causing the problems at the first location — accessibility, transit, parking, proximity to residential homes,” Holman explained. “All those different things we were looking at to say, ‘How do we mitigate and look for something where we won’t have those problems in the future.’”
The new location was appealing because it’s far removed from any residential neighborhoods, the Stephen C. West Ice Arena provides ample parking most of the time and the area is already served by more buses than any other place in town.
“Plus, two trollies,” Holman said of all of the routes that stop by the ice arena. “And we’re not going to call them troll-ies.”
Holman acknowledged that “nothing is perfect,” but he said the task force, comprised of individuals from different town departments, town council, the Breckenridge Tourism Office and members of the general public, among others, felt like it “checked most of the boxes” with Illinois Gulch.
Still, if residents have any lingering concerns, Holman hopes people will voice them so town staff can work to ease those concerns and address any unforeseen problems before they might arise.
The trail leading up to the troll will be near the Illinois Gulch trailhead, but the troll will be found off a new “social trail” so the troll traffic shouldn’t impede any of the regular trail traffic in the area.
“It’s not going to be a trail that bikers or hikers are used to taking,” said Wolfe, who also served on the task force. “I think maybe moose have been used to taking that trail — and a couple bears — but for the most part, humans have not been using that (game trail).”
A drone video showed footage of the trail leading up to where the troll will go during Monday’s open house at the rec center. It’s not a steep incline at all, and the existing game trail leads to a natural clearing about 200 yards from the trailhead. Additionally, the area should be fairly accessible year-round.
“When we scouted that location, it was not hard to imagine the troll being located in that setting,” Wolfe said, adding that she hopes it will remain there for a long time and be taken as a nod to Breckenridge’s appreciation for the arts.
“Come and visit Isak, but leave no trace,” Wolfe asked of visitors. “Isak is going to be here for awhile, so take your time, visit him at your leisure when you’re already in town, and please respect our environment and leave no trace. That’s really what we want.”
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