Colossal Creatures

Go on a troll hunt in The Morton Arboretum near Chicago.

Trolls usually occupy the realms of legend and fantasy, but these towering giants will take up residence in the real world this summer in the woods of The Morton Arboretum near Chicago, Ill. 

With roots in Scandinavian fairy tales, trolls are typically depicted as unfriendly, brutish, and even dangerous, but the six colossal wooden trolls that will make their home within the arboretum’s 1,700 acres will be approachable and enchanting. Indeed, visitors are invited to seek out the playful-looking figures that will serve as larger-than-life guardians of the forest. 

Acclaimed Danish artist Thomas Dambo and his team will create the Troll Hunt exhibit from May 7 through June 21 using hundreds of pieces of reclaimed wood — battered boards, fallen trees and branches, and the remains of pallets and packing crates. Visitors can watch as the 15- to 20-foot-tall creatures take shape on weekdays, and then from June 22 through the end of the year and beyond, the trolls will watch over the arboretum. 

Some trolls will be situated in plain sight, while others will be hidden off paths among the trees. Built to be both mischievous and thought-provoking, the trolls of Troll Hunt invite visitors to interact with them. Elements of the exhibition encourage visitors to consider their personal responsibility as stewards of our environment.

One of trolls to be built will kneel near a “trap,” a simple wooden crate propped open with a stick. One end of a string is tied to the stick while the other end is clasped in its hand as the creature waits to catch a human for study.

Another troll will sit next to a tree holding a long rod that crosses a low-hanging tree branch. At the end of the rod dangles a net that visitors can climb into to be “captured.” Additionally, a troll “hideout” tucked away in a wooded glen will give troll seekers a glimpse into the way these creatures live.  

“People around the world have admired Thomas Dambo’s large-scale recycled wood creations in his native Denmark and on social media, and we are thrilled to host his first-ever large-scale artist-in-residence exhibition in the United States,” said Sue Wagner, vice president of education and information at The Morton Arboretum. “His trolls and the story behind them — that they are protectors of our forests — will amaze and intrigue visitors of all ages, while drawing attention to how humans can better care for trees and the environment in which we live.”

The trolls are expected to remain at the arboretum until they succumb to age and the elements. 

As visitors hunt for the trolls, they also can enjoy the arboretum’s amazing collection of trees. In fact, this living museum features one of most comprehensive collections of woody plants in North America. With its Center for Tree Science, the arboretum champions trees through scientific study, conservation, education, and outreach. 

Other highlights of the arboretum include specialty gardens, 16 miles of hiking trails, a Visitor Center, restaurant, tram tours, and educational exhibits. And young visitors can splash through secret streams, climb colossal acorns, and slide down giant tree roots in the award-winning Children’s Garden, which features 10 themed areas with interactive elements in each.

Located at 4100 Illinois Route 53 in Lisle about 25 miles west of Chicago, the arboretum is open daily from 7 a.m. through sunset. The Visitor Center is open daily from 9 a.m.–4 p.m. with extended hours in summer and fall. Admission is $15 for adults ($10 on Wednesdays), $13 for seniors ($9 on Wednesdays), and $10 for children 2–17 ($7 on Wednesdays). 

For more information about Troll Hunt at The Morton Arboretum, visit mortonarb.org/troll-hunt, or call (630) 968-0074.

Dennis R. Heinze is regional editor of AAA Midwest Traveler.

(Top photo: Thomas Dambo)