LINCOLN, Maine — Lincoln now has a giant bird as a mascot, and some people think it’s loony.
The 6-foot-tall, 13-foot-long fiberglass loon was installed Saturday off West Broadway and Main Street on town land near the Lee A. Rush Memorial Gazebo and overlooking Mattanawcook Lake.
The town economic development committee submitted the $13,000 purchase as part of its 2016-17 budget, which the Town Council approved last spring, according to Town Councilor George Edwards, who also is a committee member.
The money came from one of town’s tax increment financing funds, not from the town’s operating budget, so the purchase has no impact on town property tax rates, but it still has been controversial, Edwards said.
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“I know some people like it and some people hate it,” Edwards said Monday.
Some have questioned the wisdom of the allocation, wondering what purpose it would serve, and also believe that $13,000 was just too much to pay for what is essentially an ornament, Edwards said.
“I think it is big and gaudy. If it was half the size, I would be OK with it,” said Edwards, who joined the committee after the purchase decision had been made. “It looks really big and out of place.”
Others find it beautiful and compelling, said Scott Murchison, chairman of the downtown design subcommittee of the economic development board. Committee members advocated for the loon to help draw tourists into downtown with something they felt would be funny and unique.
“It came out better than we expected. Its size is appropriate, and I think it looks fantastic in its location,” Murchison said. “It fits really really well in the background framing the scene. I think that will be the opinion of those who are willing and want to accept it.”
“Most of the controversy comes from the fact that most people don’t understand where the money came from,” he said.
An informal survey of comments on social media drew a mixed response.
“It is obnoxious and has an evil eye,” Dawn Cook, a former Lincoln resident who has family in the area, wrote on Facebook. “Sorry if I offend. I always liked that part of town for the natural beauty and felt the gazebo complimented that. There’s nothing natural about this.”
“Loony to spend that kind of money,” Lincoln resident Kyle Oliver said.
“I hate it!” said Haley Tardif, a University of Southern Maine student and part-time Lincoln resident.
“I like it! It looks like a loon with a mission: Very determined expression,” one respondent wrote.
Two others described the loon as “tacky,” while one said, “I love love love this.”
“I do cling to my adolescence,” said Lincoln native Lora-Lee Reed, who decried the loon’s blandness. “I like skater hair, smart-aleckyness and a mysterious and edgy kind of attitude.”
Murchison said it drew a very favorable response on Saturday afternoon from several residents who were doing what loon supporters had in mind when they requested the purchase: They stopped to look at the loon and had their pictures taken on and around it.
“There’s been a lot of talk about this loon, and we just kind of wanted to come see it,” said Dot Muncie, a Lincoln resident who brought her twin redheaded grandsons to the loon.
“I just wanted to touch it,” said Owen Ryder, Muncie’s grandson.
“People are saying that it’s expensive, that the town should have spent [the funds] on something else, that the mill has gone down, and they should do different things with the money that we have,” Muncie said. “Some people think it’s cool and some people think it’s a waste of money.”
Built by Fiberglass Farm of Belfast, the loon is a kind of fun landmark that people will visit when they come to Lincoln. By locating it in front of the lake, committee members placed it amid ample parking in a picturesque location for tourists, who hopefully will stay out of their cars long enough to bolster local merchants by shopping downtown, Edwards said.
One of the most famous Maine examples of such artwork is Bangor’s 31-foot-tall Paul Bunyan statue. It’s a popular-enough landmark that a City Council subcommittee voted 3-1 last year to assemble plans to add a Babe the Blue Ox companion statue.
Committee members said that having Bunyan without Babe is like having Jack without the beanstalk and described the blue ox as symbolic of the city’s forestry and agricultural past.
Other towns have ceramic cows, moose and frogs. The local economic development committee members chose the loon because they felt that it was a good symbol of Lincoln’s 13 lakes and natural beauty. Loons are common sights in the region, and the Maine Audubon Society wrote a letter in favor of the proposal.
Murchison echoed the letter, describing the loon as “prominent in Lincoln’s new town logo. Also, they represent peace, tranquility and pristine environments. Many people consider loons a symbol of wilderness, and are an excellent indicator of water quality.”
He added that it was appropriate with Lincoln in a phase of rebranding itself from a former mill town “to a friendly and inviting place to live, work, play, and do business.”
Murchison stressed that the mascot would fit in with the town’s new motto of “Come for the lakes, stay for the lifestyle.”
Downtown merchants seem to support it, said Murchison, co-owner of Possibilities, a Main Street gift shop.
Murchison said he saw two families taking pictures of the loon when he drove through downtown on Monday. He predicted that critics would come to enjoy the loon’s presence when they see for themselves that it enhances, rather than blocks, the view of the lake, and draws more visitors to town.
“A rising tide floats all ships. As a committee, we hope this branding effort for Lincoln increases everybody’s business,” Murchison said. “That’s what this is all about — branding.”
Edwards said councilors could have prevented the purchase but he did not believe they reviewed it closely enough. Nor did the committee provide a detailed accounting of its plans, he said.
Residents who oppose the loon can bring the complaints to councilors. Edwards said he doesn’t plan on taking action himself, but might if enough people seek it. The economic development committee, meanwhile, next will meet at 4 p.m. Thursday at the Health Access Network community meeting room, Murchison said.
“We are kind of stuck with it,” Edwards said.
Murchison said he hopes that the loon becomes as iconic to Lincoln as the Bunyan statue is to Bangor.