Published 6:58 a.m. | Updated 3:17 p.m.
A popular Breckenridge sculpture of a giant troll will stay in its current location — at least for now.
By a count of five to two, town council members ruled Tuesday night to not remove the controversial public artwork from the Wellington Trail. The troll, made from recycled wood, is called “Isak Heartstone.”
Breckenridge Creative Arts commissioned Danish artist Thomas Dambo to create the $40,000 public art installation for the 2018 Breckenridge International Festival of Arts in August. The troll has been so popular that the increased foot and car traffic has led to complaints from nearby residents about illegal parking, noise and trash left from Isak’s many visitors.
The majority of the council felt the positive impacts, primarily the increased tourism, outweigh the negative ones. Councilwoman Elizabeth Lawrence said she’s “proud of how popular it is.” However, she wanted to see a more aggressive approach to mitigating residents’ concerns, including a bigger push to get visitors riding the free shuttle bus up to the eastern trailhead.
The city has added trash cans, signage and additional fencing to keep people on the trail and out of the neighborhood. It’s also increased police presence in the area. Town staff said that’s tallied up to less than $2,000 for labor and materials since the police officers patrolling the troll have been on duty.
Over the weekend, town staff recommended “Isak” the troll maintain his current home. Town communications and marketing coordinator Haley Littleton said the town formed a “troll task force,” recruiting employees from different town departments to work with BreckCreate on how to lessen the impact of the troll.
"We are encouraged by how much people love it,” Littleton said the day prior to the council meeting. “I think that's the positive side of all of this is that it does create a sense of magic and wonder."
Council member Erin Gigliello, who voted in favor of the troll’s removal, said she didn’t “like having this entertainment at the cost of the neighbors.”
The council didn’t take public comment at Tuesday night’s meeting, saying that the members had heard extensive feedback from the community over the last few weeks. Mayor Eric Mamula said said he has “talked about the troll now more than our $60 million water plan or our $25 million broadband initiative.”
Retired Army Col. Drew Kosmowski, who lives near the troll, could be seen shaking his head as council members deliberated the troll’s fate.
“I raised my hand,” he said. “I tried to give them a reality check to what's going on.”
Disappointed the troll will remain on the trail, Kosmowski said he had expected the timeline of the temporary installation to be much shorter.
"The sasquatch that was in the woods, it's gone. The acrobats, they've packed up their things and gone home. The event is over. It had its impact. It needs to be terminated," Kosmowski said.
Several council members said the town should continue to explore the logistics and cost of relocating the sculpture, and return to the debate in the spring.
BreckCreate president and CEO Robb Woulfe said his organization is sympathetic towards residents’ concerns, but is happy to “know Isak will be with us to enjoy winter in Breckenridge.”
Every year, BreckCreate puts together public art installations along trails in town. But none have earned this kind of reputation and feedback, Woulfe said.
“We worked closely with Open Space and Trails and the town, and we thought it was a great location,” Woulfe said. “[The artist] liked that there's a bit of a journey or adventure to get to the sculpture, so it's not like you can just pull into a parking lot and you fall out of your car and there it is.”
Dambo is known for his troll sculptures around the world. This is the first troll he’s installed in the western part of the U.S. The artist said he thinks of them as “all part of a fairytale I’m writing one sculpture at a time”—the fairytale is about man’s impact on the planet and it may not have a happy ending.
Dambo said he’s had “all kinds of reactions” to these trolls, but typically the response has been positive. He worked with members of that neighborhood to build the troll, and named the artwork after one of the volunteer helpers. Understanding that some people are upset about the influx of visitors to see Isak, Dambo said he also hopes people can “see this as an opportunity to make a lot of new friends.”
It’s also possible Isak could not fare well “through a Breckenridge winter at 9,600 feet,” Woulfe said. These wooden creatures are intended to eventually disintegrate, naturally returning to the earth.
And to the idea of relocating the troll, Woulfe said that could be tricky.
The artwork was “created for that location,” and Woulfe isn’t sure Isak would survive a relocation. Dambo agreed, adding that the installation wasn’t made to be moved, but “nothing’s impossible.”
Regardless, BreckCreate will continue to work with Dambo and the town to monitor the artwork and determine the best path forward.
Up along the trail, retired paraprofessional Phyllis McConnell, of Littleton, stopped to admire layered strips of wood that create a sort of coat of fur for Isak.
“I do love his bad hair day,” McConnell said pointing then to his mane of jagged sticks. “I think he's really cool and a great representation for the rugged mountains that we've got here in Colorado.”