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Friday, April 8, 2016

In Other Words: The Mind Behind The Tower Park Trail Shark

The Tower Park Trail Shark. FTM file. 
By Chuck Keller 

So I was walking one of the lesser used trail at Tower Park one day when I came face to face with a shark.  It was not any run of the mill kind of shark. It was awesome - a toothy metal grin, an impressive steel dorsal fin, requisite scars, golf ball eyes, and steel  suspender straps. Impressive. Artsy. Cool. Fun. Attitude. And a wonderful surprise.

Mike Lehrter, a Technology Support Specialist at NKU and the creator of the shark, was mountain biking in the park when he encountered the downed tree. He says that the downed Red Oak just looked right to become a shark. So he made it that way. It was crude with its initial chainsaw markings but it looked like a shark, or maybe an alligator, to the casual observer.

For his first attempt at chainsaw art, Mike was pleased. I had always wanted to try my hand at chainsaw sculpting: I purposely cut the tree extra long, so it stuck out over the trail (knowing that I would have to do a short re-route around the nose), and started carving; ending up with a grinning likeness of a dragon/alligator/shark looking thing (complete with wooden dorsal fin). It was so funny looking that you had to laugh if you saw it. The kids thought it was great and loved to play on it and it became a hiking destination.

Flash forward.  Someone vandalized it. Well, decapitated is more precise. Someone sawed the head off and rolled it into the nearby creek.  It broke Mike’s heart to see his creation destroyed. But he was determined. Mike says, I don’t know who did it or what they were thinking…. I had a moment of despair; I like it so much. I felt a bit violated.

So he huffed and puffed and with a little luck he got it back up the hill.  Then the task was how to reattach the “head” to the “body.” Mike designed some steel straps that held everything together. Then he designed some steel shields to hide other marks that the vandal left. Suddenly, the shark took a magical turn. One thing led to another and it grew into a whimsical woodland surprise. And a bit of a destination point. There is even a Facebook page dedicated to it - Friends of the Tower Park Trail Shark.  

But none of that surprised me after I talked with Mike. The shark pretty much is the emblem of his approach to life. Why should something be ordinary if it can be extraordinary?

So when Dana, his wife, requested a fence in the backyard, Mike obliged, but with some flourish and style. Each picket has something different carved in the top part. One has Gandalf’s symbolic rune, another displays Superman’s S, a leaf, a turtle, waves, a cat. Well, you get the idea.  Mike says it was a family affair. Everyone contributed an idea and then he got out the power tools and figured out how to make the design happen. If a good fence makes a good neighbor, then Mike is a great neighbor.

The Lehrer fence. FTM file. 
Then he designed a climbing wall on the outside wall of the garage for his young sons where they learned proper climbing techniques. Then he built the exercise pergola. It’s designed to challenge and to develop physical skills. I watched his son ascend it and walk around the top as nimbly as a squirrel in a tree.

Then there are all of the ropes in the huge tree in the backyard. The boys learned how to climb, use harnesses, and exercise their imaginations.The neighborhood kids love his yard.

And, of course, there is a tiny library in the front yard. The little library, called The Reading Rocket, is housed in a rocket shaped structure that sits atop a post in the corner of the front yard. People can take or leave a book. And they do - regularly. And, yes, that has a dedicated Facebook page as well - The Reading Rocket.  

The Reading Rocket. FTM file. 

RELATED: Little Libraries Spring Up in Campbell County

But what motivates someone to create these wonderful pieces? Why? That’s what I wanted to know. So I asked. Mike sat quietly for a minute and said, When I have a project, it’s almost impossible for me to do it in a conventional fashion. I have to do something different. It’s just the way I operate. 

If we share 98% or so of the same DNA then that remaining 2% has resulted in an extraordinary variety of talent. And I am glad to see that 2% manifest itself in the world in wonderful little ways. The world holds mysteries. We just need to know where and how to look. And if we look with an open mind, then we just might experience a magical moment in that 2%. 


  1. Mike is also very amazing getting the kids in the neighborhood involved in activities in his back yard. It's the house to be at during any summer day or night. And Dana is a wonderful front porch party hostess while the kids use the Lehters house as a playground. They are a wonderful asset to the West Southgate Club. They do welcome several from outside hoods as well. It was one of the best things about the neighborhood when we moved here. Dana has adopted our daughter with all the street girlies so she can pass on her craft skills too.