Imagine you’re having a rough day. You just want a place to get away from it all, to think, recharge, take a deep breath. A place where you can listen to rushing water, leaves rustling in the breeze, or a deer creeping through the forest undergrowth.
This type of restful place is what Bill Buell envisions on the Doughboy Trail, which will be completed in August with lighting and paving. The trail will connect Mill Pond Walk to High Street and serve as a key north-south trail for the community.
Buell, founder of The SPACE and owner of Domain Inc., thinks New Richmond, and specifically the Doughboy Trail, is the perfect place for an Art Bench Trail site.
“My wife Gail brought the Art Bench Trail to my attention,” Buell said.
The Phipps Center for the Arts, the St. Croix Valley Foundation and the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway launched the Art Bench Trail project in the spring, aimed at promoting tourism in the St. Croix River Valley (SCRV).
The Art Bench Trail connects seven artistic benches created between 2006 and 2011. The benches can be found in Somerset, St. Croix Falls, Hudson and Prescott in Wisconsin, and Marine on St. Croix, Bayport and the Carpenter Nature Center near Hastings in Minnesota.
Anastasia Shartin, visual arts director for The Phipps Center for the Arts, said the tourism campaign’s goal is to encourage residents and visitors to explore the small towns of the SCRV.
“We chose benches as the form because benches are a place people are encouraged to sit, sit together with others and spend time,” Shartin said in January. “Whether each bench has a beautiful view, or the focus is the functionality, each is different and unique from one another and invites people together.”
Another bench will be finished and placed in downtown Osceola this fall, and Buell hopes New Richmond will be the next site approved by the Phipps. He already has a spot on the Doughboy Trail in mind, and he said Shartin came out to see it and thought it was perfect.
The bench would rest in front of two enormous cottonwood trees along the trail, with a view of the Willow River directly in front. The rushing river over the old dam near that site will provide natural music.
“The two trees give the site uniqueness that I hope will become a part of the bench design,” Buell said. “This is really about collaborating within the community and in the St. Croix Valley. Art is a way of connecting with others in a unique way.”
Buell said the city’s Park Board approved him going forward with the idea at its June 25 meeting, and the New Richmond site meets the criteria of the Phipps’ requirements for a bench site. The location of the bench is not set in stone yet, however.
“Basically the concept is this: you pull together a group of community people and a lead artist,” Buell said at the Park Board meeting. “And together you define literally what you want to do in that spot and then everybody from the ground up truly has a role to create it. The artists that they’ve used (in other communities) have driven the design, if you will, of the different benches in the different towns, but they’ve also had those designs somewhat accommodate what they wanted to accomplish with the community members.”
He listed the Somerset bench as an example of the community working with an artist. The project involved special needs students from the community.
Park Board members seemed to like the idea, but expressed concern that the bench might become too gaudy, and not fit in with the community vision of the Doughboy Trail.
“The opportunity that we have is to really work with the artist and do it right,” Buell said. “It needs to reflect the values of our community, and be inclusive in terms of having people work on it together, and make it something that we’re proud of. It’s not an individually created work. It’s a community collaboration.”
Now that he has the stamp of approval to proceed from the Park Board, Buell, who has agreed to head up the project, said the next step is to gain approval from the Phipps.
Buell told the Park Board that the bench projects usually cost about $10,000. The money will come from community donations, foundations and grants, Buell said.
The artist chosen for the project will find materials he or she thinks would work well, and will be paid for investing time, talent and energy, Buell said.
Buell is looking for about seven people to step forward and form a project steering committee. The committee will help not only with the design process, but in the selection of an artist and securing funding.
“We are going to be looking for an artist probably in the next 30 to 90 days,” Buell said. “We’re looking for an experienced artist from the area with experience in collaboration.”
If all goes as planned, the bench will be built in 2015, Buell said. He plans to work with Public Works Director Jeremiah Wendt to come up with a specific plan to bring back to the board.
The city is also looking for people interested in sponsoring one of six other benches that will be placed along the Doughboy Trail.
For example, a family can sponsor a bench in honor of a loved one.
“We will clearly define guidelines so the benches complement what’s there and fit in with the natural setting,” Buell said.
A “Creativity Trail” is another proposed, community-driven project along the Doughboy Trail. The loop will follow an old deer path through the woods (not on city-owned property) and circle back to the main trail just a few hundred yards past the Art Bench Trail site, Buell said.
The path would be sprinkled with benches and different types of art, and maintained by the community.
“Hopefully you’ll find yourself sitting and thinking,” Buell said. “It would be a constantly developing, changing place.”
For more information on the Art Bench Trail project, contact Buell at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about the Art Bench Trail visit artbenchtrail.org.