HOULTON, Maine — Despite the chronic rain and threatening clouds, more than 50 town officials, residents and visitors gathered in Riverfront Park on Friday afternoon to welcome what is arguably Houlton’s most formidable four-legged friend.
During a brief ceremony, the town dedicated a 17,000-pound bronze moose statue cast by Hammond artists Glenn and Diane Hines. The statue stands a short distance away from the entrance to the park.
The dedication ceremony was part of a larger event celebrating the transformation of the once weedy area into what is now Riverfront Park.
Town Manager Douglas Hazlett helped unveil a plaque during the half-hour ceremony. The plaque is anchored to one of several huge landscaping rocks in the park and features the names of approximately 60 donors and volunteers who helped make the park a reality.
Five years ago, the park area was mostly home to a tangle of trees, weeds and trash. Residents formed the Riverfront Committee, and with donations, grants and some taxpayer dollars, the committee raised more than $1 million to fund the construction of the 187-foot Gateway Crossing footbridge, which stretches from the North Street Bridge across the Meduxnekeag River. Gateway Crossing is designed to give walkers easy access to historic downtown Market Square and the trails along the river.
The committee then created a park furnished with picnic tables and other amenities, landscaped the area, groomed a larger trail to benefit fitness enthusiasts, and added lighting to the park. A stairway that will provide access from the fitness trail to Highland Avenue is under construction.
“This park completely transforms this area of town,” Hazlett told the crowd. “This bridge has become a symbol of the town.”
Bob Anderson, chairman of the Riverfront Committee, praised those involved for their hard work and said that work on the park will continue for some time.
“It seems that everyone who comes to town wants to see a moose,” he said of the park’s new statue. “Now we’ll know right where to bring them.”
The Hineses, who represent a prominent stitch in the fabric of the state’s art scene, were on hand for the statue’s dedication.
Along with creating the moose, the couple also created the Samantha Smith memorial at the State House in Augusta and the Gen. Joshua Chamberlain memorial in Brewer. They also sculpted a memorial honoring Vietnam War veterans at the Cole Transportation Museum in Bangor.
The moose originally was cast for the Biathlon World Cup in Fort Kent in March 2004. It took more than 16 months to build.
It then was moved to Market Square. Less than a month later, however, vandals broke the statue’s antler and caused an estimated $11,000 in damage. The statue was returned to the Hineses’ shop in Littleton for repair. The vandals were never apprehended.
Now in a more visible, lighted area, the statue will stay in the park for three years at a cost to the town of $1 per year. The artists will retain ownership of the moose, and the town is expected to work to raise funds to make the statue a permanent fixture in the park
“I hope this will be a permanent home for it, but obviously that will take some fundraising,” Glenn Hines told the crowd Friday afternoon.
The artists are working with Vital Pathways, a community health organization, to create another Smith statue that will be displayed in Houlton. The organization intends to raise the $45,000 needed for the statue, which then will be given to the town as a gift.