Poulsbo ponders giant troll sculpture at Fish Park

Cost would be around $90K, but could be tourist attraction

The Poulsbo City Council discussed Wedneday the possibility of Fish Park featuring a giant troll sculpture in the summer of 2023 as part of the statewide Pacific Northwest Troll Project.

The public art project will feature 10 hand-built trolls by world-renowned Danish environmental artist Thomas Dambo on publicly accessible sites around the greater Puget Sound region, city documents say. Poulsbo was the only site chosen for consideration on the Olympic Peninsula.

The plan includes an aspect where troll enthusiasts can gather clues at each site to find the final troll, as that one will be hardest to find. The PNW Troll Project is expected to be an enormous tourist attraction.

“The trolls tell a tale of protecting nature and honoring our land, with a focus on understanding human impact on life in the water, salmon, and orca protection, as well as advocating for environmental protection of the watershed,” documents read.

Dambo selected Fish Park as a possible site, but other sites could be considered if the city chooses to go through with the project. His 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.

The idea is for one troll to be built at a new location every week next summer. A “troll hunt” is central to the project as the hidden trolls will be revealed each of the 10 weeks at the 10 sites.

Dambo, based in Copenhagen, 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.

The artist’s fee would be $75,000. Additionally, building expenses would be up to $20,000. Option 1 would be to pay for the project from the General Fund. Option 2 would be to fund the project through Park Reserves, which would require a reprioritization of future park projects.

Other funding options could also be considered. During the 2020-21 fiscal year budget, due to an abundance of caution related to the COVID-19 pandemic, 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 be sufficient to cover the costs.

The last option would be to solicit donations/fundraising within the community; the city would match and/or fund the remaining amount.

The city listed pros and cons of the project. The pros consisted of:

  • Conveying a message of the city’s continued desire to incorporate public art into the community.
  • Engaging with this project and its message demonstrates our commitment to water conservation and the protection of natural resources.
  • Opportunity to collaborate with the Suquamish and Port Gamble/S’Klallam tribes in a manner that promotes shared values.
  • Similar troll projects are huge tourist attractions, which could lead to a positive economic impact to small businesses, which is especially important after the pandemic.
  • Trolls are a part of Nordic mythology and folklore. As such, they speak to our community’s character and spirit as “Little Norway.”

Cons include:

  • The cost is significant and could cause a reprioritization of other projects.
  • For months there will likely be an impact on parking around Fish Park.
  • There will likely be an impact on the trails in Fish Park, requiring additional maintenance.
  • There will be time and some costs associated with the care and maintenance of the troll. That cost is unknown, but most of the supplies to build the troll are recycled and readily available and can be managed by volunteer/community groups, such as the Fish Park Steering Committee.

Some councilmembers, such as Andrew Phillips, were in favor of the troll but others had concerns. Ed Stern and Connie Lord suggested looking at other city parks that could accommodate the sculpture. Gary McVey had a number of issues with the project.

“I’m not convinced Fish Park is the right place for it. We’ve worked hard to keep Fish Park a natural environment. I’m also concerned about using more than $90,000 of public funds on this project,” he said.

“I could go on with the deferred maintenance and other needs we have,” McVey continued. “To have a project like this leap ahead of all these other needs concerns me. I’m still really grappling with whether our tribal neighbors would welcome a Nordic troll in the salmon-enriched natural area.”

Councilmember Britt Livdahl added the tourist component is intriguing, and the city historically has benefited from visitors coming to the city.

“We would be a totally different town if they didn’t want to come here,” she said. “While I understand the city has lots of needs, this is time-sensitive, and I think it would be very short-sighted to pass it up.”

Ultimately, discussion was tabled and a decision will be made at next week’s council meeting.