By Bruce Amaro
---- — If someone told you there are deer and foxes and other creatures in the woods along the Merrimack River, you probably wouldn’t be surprised.
But if the story was that a group teenagers brought the critters there, you might wonder how and why. Wouldn’t Mother Nature supply enough animals for those woodlands? Why would the teens have to get involved?
The answer is that the kids, a group of artists, “brought’’ the creatures to an area along the Bradford side of the river by using their paintbrushes.
And now their work is there for everyone to see.
The wildlife mural next to the Bradford Rail Trail is complete, and got its first public showing during a recent dedication.
The artwork, designed to show rail trail visitors the wildlife they might encounter along the trail, was dedicated to Laura Alvino, an 11-year member of the School Department’s Discovery Club, one of the organizations involved with the mural’s creation. She died early last spring, after a long battle with cystic fibrosis.
The mural hangs on the back wall of Arthur Sharp’s hardware store at 21 Middlesex St. Contractors assembled 12 four-by-eight-foot panels of the 80-foot-long mural created by the Access 21 after-school program at Haverhill High School.
“We thought it was a great idea and a good use of the space,” said hardwood store owner Patrick Lane. “The mural is part of a project that enhances Haverhill’s environmental efforts and the trail’s appearance.’’
The new mural is one of several pieces of art that will be placed along the trail, which will be part of a visitors’ loop along the river in Bradford and the downtown, between the Basiliere and Comeau bridges.
Public art in an urban setting attracts people, organizers said.
“They can use it as a landmark,” said Haverhill mural artist Liz Persing, who has worked with students in the Haverhill School system on a downtown mural project.
Students worked with Persing and Haverhill High art teacher Ellen Mullane to create the mural, which is titled “Animals and Plants of the Merrimack River Corridor.’’ It covers the entire back wall of the hardware store, facing the river. Animals such as coyote, deer and otters were drawn onto the panels and then the students painted them.
Persing designed the mural and worked with students for six months to complete the panels showing animals and plants that would typically be seen along the river.
Susan Blim, an art teacher at Haverhill High School and a gifted artist, worked with a group of students to create three tree sculptures, which were added to the mural design to create a mixed-media piece.
At the dedication of the mural, a eulogy was read by Karen Ehresman in memory of Alvino.
“Laura was a loving wife, mother, loyal family member and friend, educator, organizational genius, and ardent fundraiser for cystic fibrosis,’’ Ehresman said. “Laura’s energy and enthusiasm for life was boundless. She loved the city of Haverhill and all that it offered to her and her family. She enjoyed the parks throughout the city and was a strong supporter of the rail trail mural project through her work with Access 21 and Discovery Club. She is forever in our hearts.”
Funding for the mural came from: Haverhill Cultural Council, Haverhill Foundation for Excellence in Education, Larry Olasky, Leota Sarrette, and the Friends of the Bradford Rail Trail. Access 21 and the Discovery Clubs are program of the Haverhill Public Schools funded by 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants from the state.
To build the rail trail, the city bought an abandoned stretch of train track and land and is preparing a walking, hiking and biking area along the river. Organizers said their goal is for the trail to become a tourist attraction.