Thousands of troll hunters flocked to see Isak Heartstone last fall when he was sculpted along Wellington Trail in Breckenridge, just a stone’s throw away from residential homes. But the trail was narrow and steep, which turned icy and dangerous when winter fell. Because of the increased human traffic and potential dangers of the trail, Isak Heartstone was forced to bid farewell just weeks later, following a town quarrel that led to his dismantling.
Many were heartbroken to say what might have been a final goodbye to the beloved troll, but then came a silver lining. Isak rose again in June in a wooded place of enchantment. Although his initial birth inadvertently led to safety concerns and tension between tourists and locals, the love and appreciation for Isak has grown with his return. What was meant to be a unique installation of the Breckenridge International Festival of Arts has become a renowned and emotional piece of community.
“[Ten] months ago, Isak Heartstone was a pile of rubbish and old pallets I found in Breckenridge,” says Danish artist Thomas Dambo of his creation. “Now it’s a world famous troll thousands of people have traveled see—which makes you wonder what else is laying in the trash can?”
Trollstigen Trail, or “troll ladder” trail, was constructed specifically for Isak behind the Stephen C. West Ice Arena on the south end of Breckenridge. You’ll see troll footprints on the pavement leading into the woods. The one-way stone path goes about 200 feet into the forest, giving a past resemblance to Isak’s previous location at a rock quarry. Now in Illinois Gulch, Isak awaits his visitors.
Several stone benches are perched in a line, so visitors can sit in a circle with Isak, feeling included in his serene hideaway. With one arm wrapped around a tree and his legs laid out in front of him, he rests upon a wooded slope. You could say Isak looks happier—as only a 15-foot-tall troll fabricated from beetle-infested pine trees and recycled materials could.
He sits with an arm gently wrapped around the tree, and his other arm supports him on the forest floor. Isak’s head gazes down at tiny humans who wander into his sector, and when no one is there, he watches over the rushing Illinois Creek on the other side of the path. His eyes are big and black, but round for a wide-eyed greeting. His lips are curved into a slight smile to match his curious eyes, forming an expression of a warm welcome.
It’s a different pose than the original—Isak in a sitting position, stacking a cairn at a rock quarry along Wellington Trail last fall—but an even more suitable setting for a troll made of wood than the previous barren lot. Isak is the 40th recycled wood sculpture in the Troll Hunt series by Dambo.
“The world is drowning in trash, but if we stop and look outside at what’s really important, we can build a new world from all that trash,” Dambo says. “We can build ships that can sail us into the future, houses and beautiful artwork.”
His last name, Heartstone, was imagined by three young girls who found a heart-shaped rock at the first location. Dambo installed the stone heart within Isak to give him a life-like feature, and he salvaged the stone for the rebirth.
After the second commission, the community was called upon from Dambo and Breckenridge Town Council to help identify a suitable location. The easily accessed area behind the ice arena was selected, and a new trail planned specifically for Isak’s new home. However, Dambo needed to envision a new image for Isak.
Meditating in the potential site, Dambo’s first plan was for Isak’s arm to wrap around the tree, creating a pose in an enclosed wooded setting perfect for the timber body of the troll.
“[Isak’s original installation] was a great community effort, and it broke all of our hearts to dismantle this wonderful piece of trail art,” said Town Councilwoman Wendy Wolfe and the new ribbon cutting. Wolfe had formed a committee to bring Isak back home. “As a team working on this project for several months, we are excited to open Isak to the public. This has been an incredible process, and we think that this location, with the help of our visitors, can be Isak’s home for many years to come.”
The return path of Trollstigen Trail is a boardwalk raised above the rushing creek and winding back to the parking lot. Remembering that charming troll who silently waits, tucked in the trees alone, makes this visitor want to always hit the trail to see an old friend every time you’re in Breckenridge.
Troll Hunt on Trollstigen Trail: How to Find Isak
Where: The trail begins and ends at the Stephen C. West Ice Arena, 189 Boreas Pass Road.
Parking: There is no troll parking at the trailhead or ice arena parking lot. Visitors are encouraged to park at the Visitor Center at 203 South Main Street, and make the 15-minute walk or 5-minute bike ride to the trailhead. Or ride the shuttle.
Take the Free Shuttle: Visitors can also board Breck Free Ride. The shuttle loops Main Street every 15-20 minutes and drops off at the trailhead. The shuttle also regularly picks up at the Breckenridge Transit Center, next to the base of the BreckConnect Gondola, and outside of the Breckenridge Welcome Center.
Total Length of Trail: 0.5 miles
Rules: Do not climb on Isak. Pack out your trash, and keep your dog on a leash.
More Info: Visit www.gobreck.com for more information on parking, shuttle times and directions to the trail.