FRANCONIA NOTCH, N.H. — The group trying to raise funds for a multimillion-dollar memorial to the Old Man of the Mountain has decided to abandon its plans, citing the poor economy as the main reason for dropping the project.

The Old Man Legacy Fund, a nonprofit volunteer group, has been working over the past five years to raise money for a $5.5 million memorial to the Great Stone Face that hung over Profile Lake in Franconia Notch before it came crashing down May 3, 2003. The group raised about $500,000 over that time frame, and Legacy Fund Chairman Dick Hamilton of Littleton said Wednesday his group has voted to halt any further work at the site.

“The interest level is there, but the money just isn’t,” said Hamilton. “We still get thousands of people that visit the site every year. But with the economy the way it is, we just don’t think the price tag that our plans carry is a realistic goal. What we have in place there now, people are very happy with anyway.”

Hamilton and fellow board members successfully raised about $500,000 for the first phase of the memorial, completed in 2011, which includes a series of steel rods that when viewed from a certain angle, show an outline of the profile against the cliff.

The Old Man of the Mountain Profile Plaza also contains hundreds of stone pavers, purchased by members of the public, engraved with names of project supporters and memories of the famous rock outcropping.

“We have 720 pavers in place now,” said Hamilton. “Those will remain on sale until December 2014. We’ve had support from hundreds of people throughout New Hampshire and beyond.”

The second, more expensive phase of the Legacy Fund’s plans called for five granite monoliths to be situated in such a way that when viewed in sequence from a raised platform, they would appear to merge into one image resembling the outline of the Old Man.

Hamilton said the stones would represent the five large slabs of granite that formed the rock profile.

“The cost of moving forward with those plans is just too much,” said Hamilton. “Without large donations from corporations, we won’t reach that goal. If someone calls us up and says we have $1 million for you, I might reconsider, but we were charged with creating a fitting memorial for the Old Man. We feel as a group we’ve done that.”

Leftover money

Hamilton said his group will take the remaining funds and do “some small touch-up projects” at the plaza, such as adding benches and signs. Any leftover money will be put into an endowment fund for Cannon Mountain State Park for maintenance of the site.

The Old Man of the Mountain was discovered in 1805 and became one of the state’s most popular tourist attractions before it fell, inspiring such works of literature as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Great Stone Face.” The New Hampshire Legislature adopted it as the state emblem in 1945, and the image appears on license plates, highway signs and the state quarter.

Hamilton said that while the Old Man has been gone for a decade, he is not forgotten.

“People want to go there, to stand and look at where the Old Man used to be,” said Hamilton. “They want to show their kids the spot. The plaza gets between 200 and 300 visitors a day, and we had between 25,000 and 30,000 people there last summer. He is still an iconic image of our state.”

An anniversary service will be held at Profile Plaza on May 3, the 10th anniversary of when the Old Man fell. The Old Man of the Mountain Legacy Fund invites all friends of the Great Stone Face to gather from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. to share their memories of the Old Man, and take part in a moment of silence.

Distributed by MCT Information Services