A place to find peace; walk the new labyrinth

News Photo by Darby Hinkley Esther Ableidinger, Julie Wiesen, and Katie Wolf pose in the center of the Community Labyrinth, located west of the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena. Currently a walkable template, it will be completed by May 2023.

ALPENA — Passersby along the Maritime Heritage Trail in Alpena have likely noticed some commotion in the lot behind the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center.

A large, round cement slab there now contains a labyrinth painted on in purple, thanks to donations from local businesses.

The labyrinth is currently just a template, but by next spring, if fundraising is accomplished, it will be a completed stone masterpiece, according to the three women behind the idea.

“We started this, and it was just three people getting together who wanted to do a project,” said Esther Ableidinger, one of the three women who coordinated the project. “This idea originated years ago from Jewel Lancaster.”

Lancaster works at Alpena Community College. She had brought up the idea of a labyrinth on campus, but it never came to fruition at that time.

“Julie remembered all these years,” Ableidinger said of Julie Wiesen, another of the tenacious trio that started this project. The third is Katie Wolf, liaison to the Friends of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

“Julie said, ‘Well, what about a labyrinth?’ And we thought, ‘What?’ And, look at this. We’re making it happen,” Ableidinger said.

Wiesen said they wanted to provide something that the community could access for free.

“Go big, or go home, is what we said,” Wiesen added. She said the conversations with Lancaster, a counselor at ACC, occurred about 18 years ago.

The 11-circuit round labyrinth is modeled after the 13th Century Chartres Labyrinth in France.

The Community Labyrinth in Alpena is 46 feet across. It takes about 900 steps to complete the walking meditation course.

“You can come at it from any denomination,” Ableidinger said. “But there is some sacred geometry in there.”

It’s a way to clear your mind by engaging your body in a simple task.

“If you’re having a bad day, you can walk around it a couple of times to clear your head,” she added. “Maybe you’re thinking of something that’s troubling you, and the path keeps you contained. It focuses the mind, it relieves the mind and body of stress and outside influences, and, as you follow the path, it’s almost like you’re being hugged, and you don’t have to think of anything else.”

There is one way in and one way out. Of course, there are no walls, so it’s not a maze you can get lost in.

“In a labyrinth, you go in to find yourself,” Ableidinger said. “In a maze, you go in to get lost.”

She noted some benefits of the labyrinth.

“It focuses your mind, creates calm, relieves anxiety,” she said. “It’s shown to be so beneficial for mental health.”

“The conversation started between COVID, and not really too far away from January 6,” Wolf added. “Just, all this feeling of unease. We were thinking ‘How can we give back? How can we do something that’s positive for the community?'”

She said they wanted to do something in which people could come and feel at peace, and at ease with themselves.

“Hospitals often adopt them for surgeons to focus, but also for patients, and practitioners … to come and clear their mind,” Wolf said of labyrinths. “Since the 13th Century, people have drawn on these as a way to seek inner peace.”

Other northern Michigan labyrinths are located in Petoskey and Traverse City. There are many more across Michigan and the U.S.

In-kind supporters include Alpena Marc, LLC, Lafarge, Friends of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and local volunteers, including the Thursday Night Wine Ladies, who helped paint the template. Jeff Gray, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary superintendent, and Jeff Konczak, owner of Alpena Marc, LLC, were instrumental in getting the project going, Wolf said.

“We have to do some fundraising,” Wolf said.

The total cost for the project will be about $130,000.

“Each stone is going to be individually cut,” she explained. “So, it’s a lot of craftsmanship.”

Nathan Wiles is the designer. Wiles is the founder of Innate Creations, an educating labyrinth building and design company. Wiles utilizes skill and experience from his former career as an interior designer and project manager to help create his labyrinth builds and workshops.

“We did check to see if we could get the stone locally, but it is a very precision process, so local vendors don’t do that kind of work,” Wolf added. “The thing about that stone, is it is permanent. It’ll last forever.”

To donate, send checks to Community Labyrinth c/o Friends of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, 500 W. Fletcher St., Alpena, MI 49707, or online at www.cfnem.org under the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Riverfront Park and Trail Fund and note Community Labyrinth.


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