HOULTON, Maine — The Houlton Parks and Recreation Advisory Board rejected the gift of a proposed meditative walking path for downtown’s Riverfront Park.
The labyrinth is not a good fit to represent the park, the board said. Now the project’s fate rests with the town council, which has been reviewing the project over the past year, but learned this week of the park board’s decision.
“I didn’t have a chance to meet with the rec board myself and present it firsthand,” said Houlton attorney Dick Rhoda, the project’s creator.
Rhoda believed America’s Peace Labyrinth would be a place to bridge divides as more people from other cultures and religions move to Maine. He wanted to give it to the town in memory of his father, Leslie Rhoda, who dedicated much of his life to serving the Houlton community.
He envisions a granite stone at its center bearing the words “peace,” “shalom” and “salam,” to represent Christian, Jewish and Muslim religions, he said. Bishop Robert Deeley of Maine’s Catholic diocese recently wrote a letter to Rhoda saying he hopes the project “finds fulfillment in 2023” to help fight divisions.
In the making for the past few years, America’s Peace Labyrinth, as Rhoda named it, was originally presented to the now disbanded Riverfront Park Committee. Led by Bob Anderson, the committee met with Rhoda several times and was in favor of the labyrinth, Rhoda said. They suggested the Riverfront Park location.
This past year Rhoda made several presentations to the council about the labyrinth.
The council supported the replica of the famed 13th-century labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in France, but councilor Eileen McLaughlin expressed concerns about labyrinths as depicted in recent fantasy and horror films.
Those are just movies, and labyrinths have been used around the world for centuries as places of peace and inner reflection, Rhoda said.
Parks & Recreation Director Marie Carmichael and Public Works Director Chris Stewart recently walked the proposed site with Rhoda at Riverfront Park and said it was a good location and he believed it was approved, he said. At a recent meeting, councilors acknowledged how this must have been confusing.
“As far as I remember, we looked at the site and I probably said it was OK, but I don’t make the decisions,” Carmichael said Friday.
Rhoda did not expect the recreation board decision and is now considering circulating a petition in support of the project for the March 27 town council meeting.
The Parks & Recreation Advisory Board said a structure as large as the labyrinth would disrupt the park’s theme of connecting with nature, according to meeting minutes. They acknowledged Rhoda’s generosity but said it would be a benefit to the town at a location other than Riverfront Park.
The labyrinth is not a structure jutting out from the ground, the actual path is ground-level and colored pavers lead the way, Rhoda said.
“If the town council decides to move forward with the project in Riverfront Park, the Rec board would rather see it located on the former Sprague lot,” the board said.
That lot is not a good location because it is isolated and a 1,580-foot walk, which is difficult for older people or for those in wheelchairs, Rhoda said. The current proposed site is 80 feet from the parking lot, he said.
Until this new development, Rhoda was preparing to order about 9,000 colored concrete pavers from The Labyrinth Co. in South Carolina to form the walking path. Rhoda is paying for the entire cost of the labyrinth, but he does not want to share the amount.
In Rhoda’s plan, the labyrinth would be on the left side of the park’s walking path just beyond the flower garden and two weeping willows. Its 42-foot diameter would rest between two trenches.
A typical path of this nature costs nearly $32,000, according to The Labyrinth Co.
Often confused with mazes designed to trick people, labyrinths are easy circular walking paths designed to help a person release worries and tensions while they walk. In medieval times they represented a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
“May it be that we will not remain at a perpetual distance from one another,” Rhoda said.
Correction: An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated Bob Anderson had passed.