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Unsolved mysteries: Durango’s stealth artists

The metal cyclists inside the roundabout on Florida Road have been decorated for holidays, events and special occasions. The identity of the stealthy decorating bandits is not known, but the city approves of their whimsical interactions with sculpture.

Dear Action Line: What is the deal with the cyclists at the roundabout at Florida Road and Chapman Hill? I pass by often and am always surprised and delighted when I see the cyclists. Who or what is responsible for the decorative array of witches’ hats, Christmas baubles, American flags, RBG’s decorative neckwear and trick-or-treat pumpkins? I personally think it is fairies or Keebler elves. – Curious Round-a-bout Sleuth

Dear Curious: Don’t you love living in a town where “vandalism” is sometimes people decorating things just for the sheer joy of it? This is a town where, each Christmas, surreptitious artists tinsel a few scattered trees and where, as described below, someone carves a face into a tree.

First, a bit of history:

The five 800-pound cyclists, designed and built by Boulder artist Joshua Wiener for the city of Durango, were installed in August 2012 in conjunction with the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. The race brought many of the world’s top cyclists to town for the start of a tour that finished in Denver six days later. When they dove off the college mesa and down Florida Road, cyclists whizzed past the newly installed sculptures.

Soon, the adornments appeared. Later that month, they sported bikinis. On New Year’s Eve 2012, they wore colorful party hats. Holidays, events, special occasions – all reasons to garnish the sculptures.

Who is doing this? A person, a group?

Unless this is the work of elves or sprites or benevolent aliens or whatever, somebody knows but is not telling. The issue was discussed, thanks to prodding from Action Line, at the Jan. 26 meeting of the Durango Creative Economy Commission. Members of that body, once called the Public Art Commission, don’t know who’s doing this clandestine decorating, said Melissa Youssef, City Council’s liaison to the commission.

So, is this desecration, or art?

The commission decided several years ago that it appreciated public engagement with this city artwork, and the cyclists were not being harmed, said Cathy Metz, director of Parks and Recreation. Plus, the decorations are being removed.

(Action Line envisions several unrelated groups of stealthy bandits arriving simultaneously at the roundabout at 2 a.m., arguing about whose turn it is to decorate, with silent games of rock-paper-scissors the determinant.)

Commissioners, said Youssef, “noted ... that part of the joy of this piece is the mysterious nature of decorators themselves and how they have created this community tradition. ... It has become a fun, creative community folly.

“We love this piece, and we know that our community does, too.”

Who took the time to make this tree carving, and how long has it been there?

Dear Action Line: I’m sure your trail-savvy alter-ego is well aware of the location of this extraordinary trailside carving. When was this Old Man of the Mountain created? (See photo with story.) And by whom? – Clint McKnight

Dear Clint: Perhaps hypocritically, Action Line is sensitive to revealing too many trail secrets and giving away locations. There is nothing worse than seeing an Outside magazine story such as, “The 10 best secret unspoiled places” or “The 10 quietest places on the planet that we make easy to find.” You’ve seen the stories.

The truth is that Action Line does not know where this carving is located, other than it’s somewhere around Durango. But, if someone wants to divulge the answers to your questions, Action Line will share that information.

Should everyone know where this awesome carving is? That’s a bigger question, one open to debate. Action Line is curious what people think.

Email questions and suggestions to actionline@durangoherald.com or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301.

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