Poulsbo moves forward with giant troll sculpture project

Cost and location still to be decided; city can still back out of it

After much debate, the Poulsbo City Council last week chose to move forward to incorporate a giant wooden troll sculpture at one of the city’s parks next summer.

Parks & Recreation director Dan Schoonmaker reiterated to council that it’s just a verbal commitment at this point. The next steps would be to negotiate a price with renowned Danish artist Thomas Dambo, who has built 80 troll sculptures around the world, and come to a consensus on the most appropriate location.

“It’s a non-binding thing, and the city could still back out during contract negotiations or any time before then,” he said.

Some of the initial concerns consisted of cost, location, conflict with other city priorities, liability and vandalism.

For cost, the total would be around $90,000 but could end up being more depending on who else collaborates on the project and the cost to maintain it. Schoonmaker said other organizations could support the project and that the city is looking into grant opportunities.

Funding options include pay from the general fund or from park reserves, which would require a reprioritization of future park projects.

Other options could also be considered. Examples are: During the 2020-21 fiscal year budget, due to an abundance of caution related to COVID-19, the council chose not to fund Park Reserves ($50,000 per year). If the council were to replenish that amount through carryover or federal COVID funding, it would cover the troll costs. Another option would be to solicit donations/fundraising within the community; the city would match and/or fund the remaining amount.

Regarding location, the city is considering Fish, Centennial, Wilderness and Raab parks.

Schoonmaker also addressed some of the liability and vandalism concerns.

“As long as we are maintaining the troll in a safe manner, [RCW] does cover us for unintended acts that occur there. There’s also some signage suggestions…that would limit people from climbing on it. There is no way to ensure that vandalism is not going to happen. I think there are ways to mitigate it, depending on where we put it.”

Schoonmaker said that of the roughly 80 trolls that Danbo has built worldwide, none have been vandalized. “I would hate to think that we’d be the first.”

He pointed out that five of the 10 cities in Washington that are being considered for the troll project have already decided to proceed in a similar fashion as Poulsbo. “It would be five minimum,” he said. “If it we’re only four cities, the project wouldn’t go forward.”

Councilmember David Musgrove said it’s not only an art project, but would bring economic opportunity to the city. “Businesses need to be able to play the troll into their plans.”

Gary McVey was the lone councilmember to vote no. “Some of my objections from last week still stand in terms of all the unfunded needs across this city. There’s just a huge list. I believe we should fund our needs before we fund and chase after wants.”

Project background

The Pacific Northwest Troll Project will take place in the summer of 2023, featuring up to 10 hand-built giant troll sculptures by Dambo on publicly accessible sites around Puget Sound. The plan includes an aspect where troll enthusiasts can gather clues to find the final troll, as that one will be hardest to find. The project is expected to be an enormous tourist attraction.

Dambo’s idea is to have the troll lying on its back in the middle of blackberry bramble, documents read. There would be a “secret” entrance into the bramble through an arbor hidden from the trail. The troll would measure 24 feet long, 16 feet wide and 12 feet high.

Based in Copenhagen, Dambo is well-known for his signature large-scale troll sculptures made from recycled wood. A whimsical story is woven into each project, where giant trolls encourage people to explore the outdoors and protect the environment. He has created over 80 trolls in Denmark, Mexico, South Korea and the U.S.