By Tonya Strickland
Celebrating community connections to indigenous wildlife and the natural resources of the Salinas River will tie into a new piece of public art in the works for Paso Robles.
A three-dimensional, mixed-media sculpture revering the local habitat with metal and wood should be installed by the end of the year along the river’s corridor.
The project is intended to help the public view the Salinas River and areas along its banks “as a place of environmental, educational and recreational value,” organizers said.
Ojai artist Robert Roemisch’s “Circle of Life” features a wooden bench curved like a river and welded to a grand arc of river-life animals depicted in solid sheet steel.
It was chosen by a panel of six local art jurors in late April and is funded by the community’s nonprofit REC Foundation.
The foundation raises money year-round, such as through the summer Concerts in the Park series, for a variety of community projects. The river became a focus in 2009, and Roemisch’s $4,000 commissioned piece was funded through art and event-day sales from four Festival of the Arts events in Paso Robles.
Roemisch’s art is also intended to improve the public’s experience on the city’s recreation trails and open space near the river.
That’s key to city leaders who have long-term plans, known as the river vision, for the city’s stretch of the waterway that includes walking areas, watershed protection and public art and education opportunities.
There is no time frame on executing the plan. Rather, it serves as the framework for an ongoing effort in which opportunities will be pursued as resources are available, officials said.
New trails, seating and informational placards have been benchmarks of the effort in recent years.
The river, which bisects Paso Robles and runs parallel to Highway 101, flows above ground during the rainy season and below ground for most of the remainder of the year.
The corridor is lush with indigenous vegetation and wildlife such as valley oak, cottonwoods and willows, along with deer, opossum and rabbits.
Work toward extending river trails has been picking up. The city is working on an eastside trail connector along South River Road, which will debut by the end of the year, to connect pedestrians and cyclists to the corridor.
Studios on the Park, a local artist workspace and public gallery, has been integral in sharing the river vision with the public.
The local nonprofit group has partnered with the city to bring the color-filled Festival of the Arts weekend to Paso Robles each summer since 2009. It boasts river-specific art shows by local artists, other samplings of artworks, children’s activities and river tours. Roemisch’s unfinished sculpture was displayed at the festival in May.
Once the sculpture is complete, the REC Foundation will seek permanent installation of the work at a point along the city’s river trail system.