LINCOLN – The snow is piling up in the upper Blackfoot Valley and night-time temperatures dip to 30 below.
Full-fledged winter has set in on Alan Counihan’s “House of Sky,” Jorn Ronnau’s “Gateway of Change Arch” and three other never-moving, always-changing environmental sculptures at the wooded park east of town.
But they’re still pulling ‘em in off Highway 200.
“I went out the first time it snowed, which I’m sure a lot of people did, and I’ve periodically gone back out since. There are always tracks, always people there,” said Rick Dunkerley, project director for "Blackfoot Pathways: Sculpture in the Wild."
The parking lot is plowed and Dunkerley was thinking about grooming a trail through the woods with his snowmobile earlier this week.
The free, one-of-a-kind sculpture park is set in historic lumber and mining country and is designed to embrace those roots. It opened on Oct. 4, capping a debut season that fired imaginations and exceeded expectations.
“It think it was even better than we thought it would be with the amount of community participation, volunteers and just the reaction to it,” said Dunkerley. “We had, I would imagine, around 300 people at the opening on the fourth, and it’s just been a steady stream of visitors since. Just amazing.”
Hundreds of students from the Blackfoot Valley and surrounding areas visited the park in the fall while internationally acclaimed artists Counihan and Kevin O’Dwyer from Ireland, Ronnau from Denmark, Jaakko Pernu from Finland and Steven Siegel from New York created their wildly varying pieces.
All five men were on hand to present their work at the October opening. The program started and ended at the towering tepee burner moved in pieces from its Landers Fork home to serve as the park’s centerpiece performance venue.
The army of volunteers and coordinators who made 2014 a success aren’t resting on those laurels. Plans for 2015 range from a Ski the Sculptures Day in mid-February to a second Artists in Residency program in the autumn.
The latter will draw three more internationally recognized sculptors – Sam Clayton and Mark Jacobs of Brute Force and Ignorance in Wakefield, England, and the park’s first female artist, Noellyn Pepos, a longtime resident of the Bitterroot Valley. They’ll add at least two sculptures to the park between them.
In the summer, Brandon Ballengee, a 40-year-old biologist and artist who teaches at the School of Visual Arts in New York, will conduct a five-day workshop for students in grades 7 through 12. Participants will explore the unique landscape of the Lincoln area and create art based on their research.
Ballengee has an ongoing series of outdoor light installations called “Love Motel for Insects” that light up at night and attract insects.
Ballengee’s installation will be portable.
“We’re hoping to go to Ovando and maybe Potomac with it just to get some more interest there,” Dunkerley said.
A fire will be lit in the bottom of the tepee burner for Ski the Sculptures on Feb. 15, the Sunday of Valentine's Day weekend, and people will be invited to cross-country ski around the trails and art pieces of the 26-acre park. A horse-drawn sleigh will provide an alternative mode of travel, said Dunkerley.
The tepee burner was O’Dwyer’s brainchild, and he’ll be back in June and September to continue work on it. Money from a foundation is targeted expressly for the burner from the former Delaney Mill.
When it’s finished it’ll be equipped with solar-powered LED lighting to glow at night, as in the days when it actually burned trash wood for the mill seven miles up the road.