Icon in decline

Opechee Indian carving Karen Bobotas

The 32-year-old sculpture at Opechee Park is named Keewakwa Abenaki Keenabeh, which translates to “Giant Indian – The Defiant One.” The log from which New Hampshire’s Whispering Giant is carved from is a native 36-foot red oak tree weighing approximately 24,000 pounds.  (Karen Bobotas/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

Rot, insects threaten 32-year-old sculpture at Opechee Park


LACONIA — At Opechee Park on Wednesday, there was a clear backward lean to the 36-foot red oak sculpture of the face and headdress of a Native American man.

Rot and insects have damaged the 32-year-old work of art, called Keewakwa Abenaki Keenabeh, which translates to “Giant Indian – The Defiant One.”

A couple of exterior sections have fallen into disrepair, but the main problem is inside, where deterioration is causing the 12-ton piece of New Hampshire wood to lean back on interior supports. The city has put a fence behind the statue as a precaution to keep people away.

Kevin Dunleavy, Laconia's director of Recreation and Facilities, said contributions are being sought to make repairs. If nothing is done, it could eventually fall or have to be removed.

“The city of Laconia is seeking assistance from the greater Laconia and state of New Hampshire community,” he said.

“The sculpture has been plagued by interior decay through the years and repairs are necessary to keep this iconic tribute standing for many more years.”

Peter Wolf Toth, the artist who created the sculpture, has volunteered to supervise repairs, which would include hollowing out the back of the statue, installing more interior supports and replacing rotten material with wood-colored fiberglass.

He has done similar statues in every state as part of his “Whispering Giants” series, and has had to make such repairs elsewhere.

Toth fled his native Hungary as a child. He has said he views his art work as a gift to America in return for the gift of freedom he received from this country. A sculpture he created in Hawaii in 1988 allowed him to complete his goal of placing one in each of the 50 states.

Dunleavy said repair costs and related expenses are projected at $7,000. The city is also seeking donations in the form of fiberglass work, scaffolding, boom lifts and other miscellaneous supplies.

Dunleavy can be reached at 603-524-5046 or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

To help out, contributions can be made out to the City of Laconia and either dropped off at the Laconia Community Center or mailed to Laconia Parks and Recreation, Native American Sculpture Fundraiser, 306 Union Avenue, Laconia, NH 03246.

Opechee Indian carving 2 Karen Bobotas

The statue at Opechee Park is clearly leaning back too far, so the city has put a fence around it to keep people away until it can be repaired. (Karen Bobotas/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

DPW plans repairs for Union Ave., Court St.

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A pickup nears a section of deteriorated road on Union Avenue near Elm Street on Wednesday. A $5 million program has been proposed to make major repairs on Court Street and Union Avenue, two of Laconia’s busiest roads. (Photo by Rick Green, Laconia Daily Sun)


LACONIA — A total of $5 million in road work would be done on Union Avenue and Court Street under a proposal by the city’s Public Works Department.
Bond financing would pay for the construction.
Public Works Director Wes Anderson said Wednesday that, if approved by the City Council, design work for the Court Street project would be done this year, with construction next year.
Ultimately, Court Street would be improved from its intersection with Main Street to the Belmont town line.
Design work on Union Avenue from its intersection with Main Street to Gilford Avenue and from its intersection with Elm Street to Stark Street would be done next year, with construction starting in 2019.
Anderson said these arterial roads are among the busiest in the city, and truck traffic adds to the stress. They are in need of reconstruction and extensive drainage work. The roads have very rough surfaces and are prone to collecting standing water.
Once the work is completed, motorists should notice a smoother ride, and there will be less wear and tear on vehicles.
“Portions of these roads are broken up, pot-holed and settled,” Anderson said. “We get complaints from both residents and the council. Our main arterials take some of the hardest beatings.”
The city has an annual road repair program of $1.5 million a year. That program would continue while bond funds pay to improve Union Avenue and Court Street.
However, interest on the bonds would ultimately reduce money available for the annual program unless other sources of funding are identified.
City Councilor Henry Lipman said such other sources could include state infrastructure funds or one-time money from city property sales.
Another possibility that could be studied for certain areas would be tax increment financing. This is a mechanism that allows municipalities to fund infrastructure improvements in a given district by borrowing money and paying off the debt with increased property tax revenue fostered by those improvements.
“Good quality roads are part of something every taxpayer uses,” Lipman said. “Good roads are important for facilitating commerce and creating an attractive place to make an investment.”
He said that in recent years, there has been an enhanced effort to improve roads that had deteriorated. This effort will accelerate if the city’s annual $1.5 million roads program is enhanced by $2.5 million in bond funds each of the next two fiscal years.
“We would be spending at least $4 million on road improvements each of the next two years as we try to get caught up on roads,” he said.


Skate park campaign helps young man honor father

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The Glenn Hart Memorial Skate Park in Meredith is unused for lack of an attendant and is decaying. An effort to save the park is being conducted by Brendan Hart, son of the man for whom the park is named. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

MEREDITH — Disturbed by what has become of a skateboard park dedicated to his late father, Brendan Hart has initiated a GoFundMe campaign that raised more than $8,500 toward its restoration in the first three days.
Hart, 22, said he was only 3 when Glenn Hart died from a heart infection, so most of his memories of his father came through stories he heard from others, and by spending time at the Glenn Hart Memorial Skate Park, created to honor the memory of a man known for his generosity.
Among his other contributions to the greater Meredith area, Glenn Hart had established the Mae Hart Thanksgiving Dinner at Hart’s Turkey Farm Restaurant, providing free meals so no one need be alone on the holiday.
Brendan Hart said he and his brothers spent much of their youth at the skateboard park, and he became an avid skateboarder who has visited many of the parks around the country. He maintains that the town of Meredith has been a terrible steward, allowing its skateboard park to deteriorate and, in recent years, restricting the hours it is open.
Hart said the recreation department told him the town could open the park only when there was an attendant there and, due to the cost, it had to restrict the hours. Initially, Hart said, he was told the attendant was needed to prevent bullying.
“As a skateboarder, I’ve never experienced bullying at a skate park,” Hart said.
Later the recreation department told him the town’s insurance company required an attendant when the park was open.
“I’ve been In skate parks all around the country, and this the only one that has attendants,” Hart said.
He said the recreation director had asked the town about having a volunteer cover the park, but the response was that it had to be a paid attendant.
Because of that requirement, the town now limits use of the skateboard park to a few hours on summer weekends, Hart said.
“It kind of seems like Meredith has stigmatized skateboarding over the years,” said Hart. “They claim it’s more dangerous than football. It’s a long-time prejudice against skateboarding that shouldn’t exist any more.”
He acknowledges that some other skateboard parks are in similar states of disrepair, and Laconia’s park is closed, but he noted that Burlington, Vermont, has just built a “massive” new skateboard park.
Meredith Town Administrator Phil Warren said the skateboard park is one of many wants and priorities competing for limited resources.
“We have maintained the skate park to the best of our ability, both financially and operationally,” Warren said, “but it is an older facility and maintenance can only do so much.
“The reason that an attendant is required whenever it is open is because, without such an attendant, the town would incur undue liability and the skate park would become what is known as an attractive nuisance,” he said.
Hart, who attended Plymouth State University, said he served on a nonprofit organization that helped to build the Plymouth skateboard park, so he felt he could do the same thing in Meredith. He said he chose to raise money through the “Save My Dad’s Memorial Skatepark” GoFundMe campaign because “It’s a way to tell a story, and the most powerful thing about Meredith’s skate park is the strong personal connection. I thought that story would move a lot of people and have meaning for a lot of people in the community.”
The response, he said, “is just heartwarming — not only that people donated money, but I’ve also received a lot of positive comments about my dad, and that’s not something I always get to hear. People find it’s a bit hard to talk about a deceased parent. People don’t want to get sad, so there’s not always a chance to hear positive comments.
“People want a nice recreational facility for Meredith, but they also want to remember my dad,” he said.
The $25,000 campaign goal will not cover the total cost of rebuilding the park, Hart said.
“The wood is weathered and the metal is an unhappy minefield of paint chips,” he stated on his GoFundMe page.
Hart wants to replace the weather-sensitive structures with concrete, and to repave the park. He said the GoFundMe project could provide enough money to get the project going, and he will be doing other fundraising to complete the work.
After that, he said, “If the town wouldn’t work with me, I’d find a way to keep the park open, like every other town has.”
Hart’s friend, Brendan Eldridge, has contacted the Tony Hawk Foundation, which supports programs for youths, and the foundation has offered to assist in working out the problems with the town.
“Mainly, with so many people talking about it, I hope the town reaches out to me now and is motivated to find a way to change that policy,” Hart said.
Warren said the parks and recreation director will be presenting a parks and recreation facilities master plan to the selectmen this summer, and part of that master plan will include a recommendation on what to do with the skateboard park.
Hart and his brother, Colin, who is 24, are continuing to work at the family restaurant. “That’s nice to have, too,” Hart said. “As a kid, the skate park was my active connection with my dad. Now, working at the restaurant, I also hear stories of my dad.”

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Those wishing to donate to the effort to save the skate park can do so through https://www.gofundme.com/save-my-dads-memorial-skatepark. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

06 22 Meredith Skate Park 3