Houlton Celebrates Art Bench Project

Close up of the art bench

Art bench trail poster

The Houlton Art Bench project began several years ago with a request from the Phipps Center for the Arts, asking Houlton Elementary to participate in the St. Croix River Art Bench Trail.  Hundreds of hours later, there is now a community “gathering place” in the St. Croix River Crossing Loop Trail Trailhead, located across the street from Houlton Elementary School.

The process began in 2017, with representatives from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, St. Croix County, Phipps Center for the Arts, Township of St. Joe, St. Croix Valley Bike and Pedestrian Trails Coalition, and Houlton Elementary School brainstorming what this Art Bench could become. As part of the Trailhead, it was envisioned to be the keystone “bench” on the Art Bench Trail. The idea of an Art Bench expanded, and soon it became a gathering space that would hold 20-25 people on terraced stone seating, to redefine a local place for the redesigned Houlton community.

An artist, Hudson architect John Kalmon, was selected and began to meet with Houlton 4th and 5th grade students the fall of 2018.  Background knowledge had been built, aligned to grade level social studies standards, so students were aware of the cultural, historical and natural resources of the area.  This was an integral part of the project, as its purpose was to represent the area in some way. Kalmon brought over 60 students through the design process, with monthly meetings for brainstorming and refining their ideas.  Careful synthesizing of the students’ vision resulted in a semi-circle of stones with a stage-like area, where community groups could come together to meet. Student groups identified a symbol that represented their learning, and these images have been incorporated into the space by being etched into the stone seating.  In addition, our Hudson High School students made steel images that are set into cement pavers throughout the space. Houlton students created a scavenger hunt that included their images and what each represented.

Once the design was finalized, Willow River Landscape was hired to work with the students to build the 20-foot diameter space.  Pavers were made, trees, shrubs and plants planted, and mulch spread. The result, Houlton Hawks Landing, will be officially unveiled on the morning of September 21st.  It has truly been a labor of love, by the hands of the Houlton students and community.

Donations and support were gathered, sometimes by pure luck, and the project wove together the resources and services of many community members and businesses.  Grant funding was received from the Friends of Perch Lake, Hudson Daybreak Rotary, Hudson Education Foundations, Hudson Home and Garden Club, Houlton Elementary Parent Association, St. Croix Bike and Pedestrian Trails Coalition, St. Croix County, St. Croix Valley Foundation, Thrivent, the Town of St. Joseph, the William H. Phipps Foundation and the Wisconsin Arts Board.  In addition, there was strong community support from Rivard Stone, Hartman Homes, St. Croix County Historical Society, St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, St. Croix Valley Master Gardeners, and the Hudson High School Tech Ed Department.

We invite the Hudson community to share our gathering space as you explore the St. Croix River Crossing Loop Trail.  The Houlton students think you will find it to be a beautiful place to land, if just for a moment!

Art bench from a distance Art bench close up