BENNINGTON, Vt. -- A majestic animal that has long eluded humans in the area will be proudly displayed on local streets next year when the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce launches Catamount Prowl 2013, a street art project mirrored on the success of previous Moosefests.
Chamber officials joined local government officials Thursday in Old Bennington on the site of the former Catamount Tavern to reveal a prototype of the fiberglass mountain lions that will lurk about town next year. The statues -- seven feet tall and 6.5 feet wide -- will be decorated by area artists and displayed around town.
"We’re hoping that this new species that we’re introducing will have as much fun and be as well cared for in this area as their good friends the moose have been," said Joann Erenhouse, executive director of the local Chamber of Commerce.
Next year’s Catamount Prowl event follows successful Moosefests in 2005 and 2009, when 54 and 48, respectively, fiberglass moose statues were decorated by artists. The statues were then auctioned off at a gala event.
"How is this different? Not very much. We know we have a formula that works," said Lindy Lynch, president of the chamber.
Both of the previous Moosefest events drove tourists to the area and drew them out of their cars and into area restaurants and businesses. The event also helps build community pride and spirit and supports local artists, she said.
Local government officials were on hand and said they are embracing the chamber-sponsored event. Bennington Select Board Vice Chairwoman Sharyn Brush, speaking Thursday on behalf of the town, welcomed the large cats.
"It seems that after talking with the moose and after learning what a wonderful place Bennington is, he (the cat) has decided to take up residence in our town. So, rumors are true. The catamounts are coming. I would like to ask the citizens to be on the lookout for this endangered animal that will arrive on our streets in 2013. I’m told there will be many. Be gentle with them, they will not bite. They are very friendly," Brush said.
Old Bennington Trustee Arnold Ricks said residents of the village were happy to help launch the event that will celebrate a symbol of historic significance to that neighborhood. Thursday’s event took place next to the entrenched granite and copper statue of a catamount that marks the location of the former tavern.
Originally named Fay’s Tavern, after Samuel Fay, it eventually became known as the Catamount Tavern. "A stuffed catamount, even then a pretty uncommon creature, was erected on a pole in front of the tavern and before long, the tavern was known as the Catamount Tavern," Ricks said.
The tavern, which was built in 1769 and burned in 1871, was a hangout of Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys, who, with other Revolution-era leaders, met there to plan attacks on the British forces at Fort Tigconderoga in New York and prior to the Battle of Bennington on Aug. 16, 1777.
The catamount, which inhabits land from Canada to South America, "has captured the imagination of successive generations of Benningtonians," Ricks said.
"Now we’re going to celebrate it and share with the rest of the world in the coming year," he said.
Like the moose in years past, the catamounts were created by Patrick Keough of America’s Fiberglass Animals in Nebraska. He, too, was on hand Thursday after delivering the prototype.
"I thoroughly enjoyed working on this sculpture and working with the different folks here to get the essence of what they were trying to get for the catamount -- the stance, the look, that sort of thing. We wanted to really make an impression when people look, and I think we’ve got that," he said.
Keough said he is excited to see how local artists transform the statues when they take possession of them. "I can’t wait to see what the real artists do with these after they get them blank like this," he said.
All of the 50 catamounts on order will be in Bennington and ready for artists by the first week of November, according to Keough. That means artists and sponsors are needed, said Michelle Hogan, a chamber volunteer.
"This is a call for artists," Hogan said. "We really want you to Š make this cat shine sparkly and bright."
Information for both artists and sponsors is available by contacting the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce, officials said.
The completed catamount statues will be unveiled May 22, 2013 and the chamber’s Gala & Auction event will take place Oct. 26, 2013.