Buffalo Park Flagstaff Az

Casey Ahrens and Dan Morefield of Northern Arizona Signs and Graphics check the levelness of the new wood sign at Buffalo Park, as Tonya Watson of the Flagstaff Rotary Club looks on, as the newly-painted buffalo sculpture stands guard. In a ribbon-cutting ceremony today at noon, Mayor Sara Presler will dedicate the new sign and refurbished gates, roof and concession stand at the park. The improvements are all part of a yearlong project by the Flagstaff Rotary Club
Where the buffalo once roamed
Popular Buffalo Park has been spruced up in time for a rededication ceremony today. Tuesday, August 18, 2009 Popular Buffalo Park has been spruced up in time for a rededication ceremony today.
Just a week ago he looked like a faded brown blob, and you couldn't tell his head from his rear end. Today, the circa 1960s buffalo sculpture at the entrance to Buffalo Park stands proud, with a patch job and new paint, ready for today's noontime ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Before dawn Thursday, several members of the Flagstaff Rotary Club began the repair job with an exterior putty compound that readied the buffalo for fresh paint."As best we can tell, there is chicken wire at the base," said Tonya Watson, immediate past-president of the 88-year-old service club. "He's kind of like most of us in middle age -- he's gained in girth.
Apparently, he's been tagged by high schools through the years, so he's just been coated over again and again."A second coat of paint Friday brought the bison within reach of his final look, minus well-defined eyes and nose, which needed a touch of black."I said,
'You know, I have a can of black paint in the car,' so we just did him up," Watson recalled. "I think he looks better than he has in decades.
He actually looks like a buffalo now."YEAR OF WORKBeginning in September 2008, Watson led the charge as president to restore the buffalo sculpture, replace three missing wooden gates at the entrance and repair the entranceway roof and rotted trusses and cross-beams.
Also, the center space between the gates was enclosed with locking doors and windows, so it can be to be used as a concession stand to raise money for nonprofits.
In a final touch, two recycled plastic benches were installed to the right of the entrance, facing the Peaks and affording one of the most stunning views in Flagstaff.
Watson was joined in this yearlong effort by the 69 other members of the club, which she says is the second oldest Rotary club in Arizona."During the past year, every one of our members participated in some way, with many, many planning hours, contribution of work days, money, or in-kind services," she said. "I'm very proud of our club."In addition to local welding, construction, roofing, sign and other businesses that contributed discounted or free supplies and services,
Watson said workers with the city's Parks and Recreation Department worked with the club to complete tasks at Buffalo Park."We've worked continually with city staff," said Tom Mackin, a longtime Rotarian and past-president who helped Watson with the bison patch job.
"They've been very, very helpful."City workers painted the large water storage tank nearby a dark forest green, which matches perfectly the new roof of the entranceway. They also moved a bike rack and boulders for easier access to the concession and bench areas.
Most of the 1,000-plus hours of volunteer work by Rotarians was done on weekends."The city had to schedule us and barricade areas, because we were using power tools," Mackin said.
TRUE TO HISTORY
With an eye to Buffalo Park's unique history, volunteers and other workers knew it was important to keep the restoration true to original plans for the park, which encompasses 274 acres today.
To this end, the city of Flagstaff Historic Preservation Commission contributed up to $10,000 in a matching grant for the project."We had to make sure we stayed in line with the history," Watson said.
The original gate hinges were recreated, non-dimensional lumber was used and the 8-by-4-foot sign that was installed Monday matches in color and font the original Buffalo Park sign from the early 1960s.
"These heavy gates will probably last longer than any of us," she said.The park is named for the buffalo that lived there for five years in the 1960s.
"The buffalo were brought in specifically for this park," said Mackin, who has been in Rotary for 25 years.
"It was a tourist attraction.
They used to have pens out here, not far away from the entrance, for the animals. It was like a zoo -- probably the only zoo Flagstaff has ever had.
"The idea for park improvements came a year ago when Rotary members finished repainting and adding pavers to the nearby picnic pavilion the club built in 1996.When members looked over at the entranceway, they were struck with how dilapidated it looked, compared to the ramada."That was sort of the genesis for this project," Watson said. "Parks and Rec and the commission have been wonderful.
They are such great partners.
They know this is a win-win project."Betsey Bruner can be reached at bbruner@azdailysun.com or 556-2255.
When bison roamed in FlagstaffBuffalo Park was established in 1963 on 163 acres of city-owned McMillan Mesa land, part of more than 700 acres acquired by the city in a trade with the Forest Service in 1958.
In 1963, the Flagstaff City Council authorized a Wild West wildlife park atop the mesa, beginning a little-known segment of local history with many bittersweet sidebars.
Buffalo Park came complete with not only eight buffalo but a stagecoach ride and "holdups,' as well as the town's Old Trapper (O.T. Gillette), some Navajo hogans and assorted elk, deer and antelope.
There was even an array of barnyard animals and a bird sanctuary.
Admission was 50 cents per car.
Tickets for stagecoach rides were sold at what is now the newly-refurbished concession booth.
Longtime Flagstaff resident James Potter Sr. (1923 - 1999) was the original designer of the park and he is remembered on a plaque at the park entrance. His dream was to establish a tourist attraction that would pay homage to the cultures of the Old West and the Navajo Nation.The bison roamed for a mere five years, their residency ended by a number of misfortunes, including the record-breaking and disastrous snows of 1967-68.Buffalo, it turns out, are not native to the deep snows and sparse winter vegetation of the high Colorado Plateau.
Nor are they easily held back by chainlink fences when desperately hungry and cold.
Longtime north Flagstaff residents know this all too well. It was in their back yards that the Buffalo Park buffalo wound up foraging for winter lettuce and other edible greenery during their frequent breakouts before the sheriff's posse could round them up.
By 1969, it was all over.That October, when the five-year lease expired, the city declared that the animals must be removed in two weeks, and they were.
Today, the park remains extremely popular with walkers, joggers, cyclists and dogs on leash, as well as folks celebrating special events in the Rotary ramada.
If you go
WHAT: Buffalo Park Rededication Ceremony
WHEN: Today, at noon.
DETAILS: Mayor Sara Presler will officiate at the ribbon-cutting. City officials and members of the Flagstaff Rotary Club will formally dedicate restoration efforts made to the entranceway structure.
WHERE: Buffalo Park, north entrance gates, take East Forest Avenue or East Cedar Avenue to turn-off at North Gemini Drive.
INFO: For more information, call Tonya Watson at 853-1406.
For information about the Flagstaff Rotary Club, visit www.flagstaffrotary.com.
Casey Ahrens (left) and Dan Morefield, both from Northern Arizona Signs and Graphics, double-check the levelness Monday of the new Douglas fur sign at Buffalo Park. The sign was designed to replicate the original sign from the 1960s and is part of a thorough restoration project at the park by Flagstaff Rotary Club and the Flagstaff Department of Parks and Recreation.
Flagstaff Rotary Club members Tonya Watson and Tom Mackin patch the aging buffalo sculpture outside the entrance to Buffalo Park just after sunrise Thursday morning.
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