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The story of Rita, Colorado's newest troll

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TELLER COUNTY, Colo. — At the top of a trailhead sandwiched between two former mining towns, world-famous artist Thomas Dambo has constructed his latest project.

Dambo, who is from Denmark and calls himself a “recycled art activist,” is known for his six-foot-tall troll statues in forests around the world. He hopes to build 1,000 across the globe. So far, he has built 119. His other Colorado troll is in Breckenridge and was built in 2018.

Keeping the specific location a secret is part of the trolls’ allure. Dambo wants people to take hikes and work to find his art, hopefully attracting smaller crowds (and less trash).

His latest troll — finished on Aug. 4 — sits between Cripple Creek and Victor, two small cities about an hour west of Colorado Springs. The Gold Camp District Impact Group, a Teller County nonprofit that works to enrich mining communities by bringing tourism to town, requested one of Dambo’s projects as a new attraction for those visiting the area.

“I think having another something to draw tourists in will help promote the economy of Victor,” said Donna Hudson, a volunteer helping on the project who lives in a nearby town.  

Colorado Voices

Colorado gets its newest troll

Cripple Creek and Victor are both known for the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mine, which sits between the two towns. Cripple Creek is one of three Colorado municipalities that allows casinos, so gambling also stimulates the town’s economy.

“I’m so thankful that Thomas decided to come to Victor, because there isn’t much here, so it’s just really exciting to meet somebody who’s known so worldwide,” Hudson added.

Dambo’s trolls are all made from recyclables, many of which he gathers from “dumpster diving.” The head of his Teller County troll, named “Rita,” was made from used furniture in Denmark, and its body constructed from scrap wood.

“I’ve devoted my life to showing the world how beautiful and valuable our trash is,” Dambo said. “I want to show the world that something old can be just as valuable as something brand new.”

Dambo builds trolls because of their mythological significance in Denmark.

Each of his trolls live in their own world: they’re 100,000 years old, nap for 100 years at a time, have children, are vegetarians and can communicate with plants, animals and some humans. However, Dambo said most of his trolls are afraid of humans.

“They become a link between the natural world and the humans,” Dambo said of the statues. “The trolls believe the reason humans are destroying the natural world is because they don’t understand the language of the natural world.”

Dambo said he places his trolls in off-the-beaten-path locations because he wants to keep the trolls “special,” and ensure those who find them do so with care.

“Us humans have this behavior where we want to own all the plants and animals and we don’t want to share it with anyone else,” Dambo said. “Because of this, the trolls think the humans are sick and they’re a little bit afraid of the humans, so they try to find some of the nicer humans and then change them.”

Dambo and his crew have plans to build 10 trolls in the United States this year. Each statue is built by a crew of volunteers, many who travel across state lines to participate.

“We find Thomas’ trolls magical and we felt like it would be a wonderful experience to be a part of,” said Alyx Vu, who traveled to Colorado from Texas to help build Rita. “They’re whimsical and they’re magical and our family is big on trying to find magical experiences.”

Vu’s son, Connor McArthur, was diagnosed with a fatal disease at three months old. The family tried to make as many memories together as they could before McArthur died at 11 years old.

“We’re here because our family is always looking for memorable experiences,” Vu said. “It’s the memories and the feelings that those memories bring that they’ll remember.”

Alison Berg is a reporter at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at

Julio Sandoval is the senior photojournalist at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at

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