All fairy tales deserve a happy ending. In the case of Isak Heartstone, the Breckenridge trail troll, it’s a happy rebirth.
After being dismantled last year amid safety and traffic concerns at its original location near the Wellington neighborhood, the beloved and popular 15-foot-tall wooden troll has been rebuilt and restored to its former glory at a new, serene location behind Stephen C. West Ice Arena on Boreas Pass Road at the south end of town.
On Friday morning, troll creator and Danish artist Thomas Dambo was on hand to restore Isak’s namesake heartstone to his restored wooden body, which was constructed from recycled wood pallets gathered by volunteers from around town.
The perfectly heart-shaped rock was found by local girls Tori and Lexi Garner, and Jade and Paige Batdorff near Isak’s original home, and they were on hand to each give the heart a kiss before handing it to Dambo, who reached through a hole and placed it inside Isak’s cavernous chest — hopefully for the final time.
Dambo then attached the last wood slats over Isak’s chest, finishing the project and bringing the troll back to life for a community that missed him. Dambo attributed the outpouring of grief and joy at Isak’s demise and return to the desire many have to preserve a little piece of a fairy tale world in our ordinary lives.
“I think a lot of people like to hear about these old folklore stories — like knights on horses, stories from the old days of Europe — and trolls are part of the old folklore and the old mythology,” said Dambo, who now builds the trolls full-time around the world with projects currently underway in Belgium, Denmark and China. “It makes it interesting for a lot of Americans, as they don’t have that kind of old history and mythology.”
Dambo was joined by Breckenridge and Summit County officials and staff as they took the short walk along an unfinished trail from the Illinois Gulch trailhead to the troll’s new digs in a nest of pine trees, where Isak now sits at his new throne, holding on to a nearby tree for support.
The troll and its associated trail are still closed for public visitation while the town of Breckenridge finishes building the trail, which runs parallel to a small stream and under a lush wooded canopy for about a hundred yards before reaching the troll.
Breckenridge Open Space and Trails manager Anne Murphy said that the town is planning to build necessary amenities around the troll, which is expected to be open to the public by early June.
“We are trying to make a very sustainable trail, as we’re expecting a lot of people visiting,” Murphy said. “We want to make sure it’s a durable and sustainable surface, using a lot of rock material.”
Aside from the trail to Isak, a boardwalk is being created as an exit path away from the troll. The boardwalk is being built above the ground to avoid drainage issues to a nearby wetland.
The area will also get new signage, picnic tables, bike racks, as well as trash and recycling containers. The trailhead is located next to bus stops for the Free Ride and Summit Stage bus routes, offering easy access to visitors and residents alike.
As far as Isak himself, the troll is built out of all recycled materials, reflecting Dambo and Breckenridge’s shared commitment to preserving the environment and endorsing the core idea of sustainability.
Murphy said Isak was made out of all-natural materials, and based on the shape of Dambo’s other projects, is expected to hold up over time. Dambo had previously estimated that the previous incarnation of Isak would be able to survive in the mountain elements for at least three years.
The troll was originally built as part of an outdoor summer art installation put on by Breckenridge Creative Arts last year. Isak was originally located about a half-mile down a windy, unfinished trail and adjacent to a rock quarry, where he “collected” rocks into a pile in front of him in order to, as Dambo relays it, build his own mountain in the mountains.
Breckenridge spokeswoman Haley Littleton said that the town intended for Isak to have a permanent home this time, avoiding the drama surrounding the troll after its popularity overwhelmed the area and its residents with visitors. Tens of thousands visited Isak before he was evicted.
The town was forced to remove Isak amid resident complaints of traffic and noise, dismantling the troll unannounced one early morning. The subsequent emotional community backlash led the town to negotiate with Dambo to rebuild the troll at his new location away from homes, with easy access and a safer trail leading to him. The town commissioned the rebuilding for $20,000, with $5,000 to pay expenses for Dambo and his crew.
Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence, who as a former Breckenridge town council member helped lead the effort to restore Isak alongside councilwoman Wendy Wolfe, said that she was thrilled to see the troll back in town.
“I think it’s so special that Breckenridge has this; other resort towns don’t have a troll, he’s ours,” Lawrence said. “He’s gone through some adversity, but he’s back, and I think it’s a special story.”
Aside from the real-life yarn spun around Isak, Dambo has created an entire fairy tale narrative about Isak and 50 other trolls he has built around the world.
In the new story he’s added to the narrative, titled “While the Weather Got Better,” Isak spent the winter visiting his family in Kentucky — where his wife, Loumari, and two children Elina and Nis live.
While there, Isak and Loumari conceived another baby. But once the seasons started to turn and the weather started getting better, Isak felt the call of the High Country. Dambo writes:
“But now the ice was melted, and Isak looked to the mountain.
He knew he had to go back, and put his big arms around them.
A hug and a kiss, Nis, Elina, Loumari
‘I will be back again soon’ he yelled, walking the prairie.”
Even though he’s back home, Isak Heartstone is not seeing visitors yet. The town will continue to build the trail and surrounding amenities, and expects to have the site open to the public by the first few weeks of June.