September 10, 2013

Changes to Skowhegan's Indian sculpture site draw concern from selectmen

Proposal to change orientation of sculpture, upgrade landscaping and access met with caution today; organizer welcomes feedback

By Doug Harlow
Staff Writer

SKOWHEGAN — With funding in place and renovation of the iconic Skowhegan Indian sculpture set to get underway next year, organizers want to improve the downtown site where the 62-foot wooden statue stands.

click image to enlarge

The Skowhegan Indian landmark sculpture in downtown is to be renovated as part of a $65,000 downtown improvement project.

Staff file photo by David Leaming

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This artist's conception shows changes proposed to the property around Skowhegan's Indian sculpture.

Contributed photo

Volunteers and the executive director from Main Street Skowhegan, a downtown revitalization group, presented their early plans for a "nod of the head" by selectmen tonight. The town owns the parking area in front of the Indian.

The group got more of a cautionary shake of the head, but not total dismissal of their plans.

"We want to change the visual orientation of the Indian from being behind Cumberland Farms to being on High Street," Dugan Murphy, executive director of Main Street Skowhegan, said. "Right now, you feel like you're behind Cumberland Farms because of where the Dumpsters are, and there's no buffer."

The idea is to open up the area where the sculpture stands so it is attractive and easily seen, Murphy said. The plan calls for trimming or removing trees, erecting a fence behind the Cumberland Farms store on Madison Avenue, moving Dumpsters and increasing parking.

A raised pedestrian walkway would be built down the middle of the parking lot. The area would link to $400,000 in state-grant rehabilitation work scheduled for the municipal parking lot across High Street.

"I'll never buy into a pathway down the center," Selectman Newell Graf said.

Graf said a walkway along the side with a staging area in front of the Indian would make more sense. Graf and Selectman Steve Spaulding said winter maintenance and snow removal in the area with a raised pedestrian walkway in the center would be a nightmare.

As for the Indian being on High Street and not behind a busy convenience store, Selectman Paul York said that wouldn't change, even with a proposed buffer or fence.

"Guess what?" York said. "The Indian is still behind Cumberland Farms."

Town Manager John Doucette Jr. cited issues of cost and engineering for the storm water system and underground utilities; but some of the work, such as trimming and removing trees, could be done. He said he was not against the idea.

Undaunted, Murphy said he was pleased with input from selectmen.

"This is exactly the feedback I'm looking for," he said.

The Indian, completed by artist Bernard Langlais in 1969 as a tribute to Maine's American Indian tribes, is owned by the Skowhegan Area Chamber of Commerce. It stands on a 28-foot-long concrete base.

The statue, billed as the world's tallest statue of an American Indian, borders land owned by Hight auto dealerships, Cumberland Farms, the shared U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Conservation service offices and a doctor's building.

Of the $65,000 needed to complete the work, $63,000 has been raised so far, allowing the work to be scheduled for next spring.

"We're paying all this money to restore the Indian, but you've got asphalt and a flat area leading up to it," said Main Street Design Committee Chairman Stephen Gould. "The only place that you can see the Indian is from High Street; you can't see it anywhere else. Our hope is for people to be able to see it and know that it's there."

Steve Dionne, who bought the former Grange hall nearby with grist mill owner Amber Lambke, has been contracted to do the renovation work.

Murphy and Gould said today's meeting with the Board of Selectmen was just the beginning of the planned work. They said they need permission from the board to move forward on the plan.

How much the work would cost, where the money would come from, who would do the work at the site and who would remove snow and maintain the parking area have yet to be determined.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

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