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Bibbi attempts to fly so she can talk to the mama “bird.”

Featured Article

Whimsy in the Woods

Aullwood Audubon provides the perfect setting for a nature-filled family outing.

Denmark-based recycle art activist Thomas Dambo builds stunning, larger-than-life trolls from recycled materials. One hundred of these creative creatures can be found around the world in locations as far away as Australia, South Korea and Belgium. Three of his woodland masterpieces call Aullwood Audubon their home, just a short 30-minute drive to the north.

Aullwood Audubon is a 200-acre nature sanctuary and educational farm with eight miles of tree-shaded trails, open prairies and category-three wetlands. Aullwood is an environmental organization dedicated to the conservation of birds and their habitats.

“We’re all about what birds need to survive and thrive,” says Laurie Cothran, development and marketing manager at Aullwood Audubon. “That’s why Audubon exists. It’s also to get people excited about birds.”

Many of Aullwood’s attractions and events are hands-on, so the COVID-19 pandemic had a devastating impact on the organization. The team was looking for something big and unique that would encourage people to come back to the woods while also incorporating their focus on science, nature, conservation, recycling and a love of birds. The Executive Director at that time, Alexis Faust, knew of Thomas Dambo.

“She knew that he built trolls from wood and all recycled materials, which follows our mission,” says Laurie. “He had an opening in his schedule to create trolls at Aullwood. It was like a miracle!”

The staff had only six months to gather all the materials, line up the volunteers and coordinate the visits from the artist. Most of the wood used to build the sculptures came from fallen trees on the property. What resulted are three whimsical trolls and a giant-sized nest tucked along the winding nature paths. The sculptures are woven into their mission of education and stewardship of birds through a delightful tale.

“How fun it is to go out in the woods and see these incredible structures- that are really like a genius built them,” describes Laurie. 

“The Troll That Hatched an Egg” exhibit opened in the fall of 2021 and tells the story of a family of trolls that loves birds and calls Aullwood Audubon their home. One day a large metal “bird” (airplane) drops her “eggs” (propane tanks) into the woods. The family decides to build a nest to try to hatch these eggs. Father troll Bo, mother Bodil, their daughter Bibbi and the nest can be found nestled along the trails at Aullwood. 

“Thomas Dambo inspires people all over the world to look at trash as something other than trash–it could be a treasure,” Laurie reflects. “I think it's a wonderful perspective that Thomas helps people want to protect and preserve our beautiful earth and recycle as much as possible.”

Beyond the trails and trolls, Aullwood offers educational workshops, camps, events, wedding venues, a hands-on nature center and more. Its farm is home to unique breeds of animals that are on the Livestock Conservancy’s endangered and threatened species list. In July, they opened a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk that spans 800 feet along the marsh.

To help maintain the nonprofit sanctuary, there is a small admission charge, but they also offer a variety of low-cost annual membership options. One of the many benefits of membership is reciprocity with Cincinnati Nature Center, the Association of Nature Centers and the National Audubon Society, which collectively includes 180 nature centers around the country. 

“You can never get too much nature-it always gives back to you,” says Laurie. 

For a unique end-of-summer activity or a special kickoff to fall, add an afternoon of outdoor exploration at the Aullwood Audubon to your plans. Check the website for lists of events and other educational opportunities happening throughout the year, Aullwood.org

  • Bibbi attempts to fly so she can talk to the mama “bird.”
  • Bo takes a rest from gathering sticks to build the nest.
  • Staff member Bev Holland feeds the baby Nigerian Dwarf Goats.
  • Bodil gathers the fallen “eggs.”