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Proceeds from Nov. 2 event to help rebuild wall at historic Yuma Territorial Prison
YUMA, Ariz. - Just a few short years ago, "Chain Gangs" of Yumans rallied to keep the doors of Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park from closing. Now the aim of the annual fundraiser is to re-create one of the Old West lockup's original walls.
The fourth annual fundraiser -- with a "Prison Blues and Barbecue" theme and menu -- kicks off at 5 p.m. Nov. 2 at the Territorial Prison with dinner, a live auction, and music by Tommy and the Drifters. Tickets are on sale now.
Yuma's prison drama began in early 2010 when Arizona State Parks announced plans to close the historic site due to state budget cuts, and the community mounted a fast and furious fundraising effort that raised $70,000 in less than 60 days. The City of Yuma then leased the property from the state, and Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area took over operations in April of that year.
Since then, major improvements have been made to the facilities and exhibits, operations have been streamlined and sales have increased dramatically, said Charles Flynn, Heritage Area executive director, with revenues now meeting the park's operating costs.
That's a happy outcome, Flynn said, but not an "end" -- community support is still vital.
"Now we can focus our fundraising on capital improvements," Flynn said. "To 'save the prison' in the long term, we need to keep improving the visitor experience every year."
That's why this year's fundraiser is actually a "wall raiser" -- proceeds will go toward re-creating the massive wall that greeted prisoners on their arrival. Part of a master plan being developed in cooperation with Arizona State Parks and the National Park Service, the replica wall will reconnect two of the Prison's original structures, the iconic guard tower and the adobe sally port, recently restored through a grant from State Parks.
The wall will show how the original structures functioned as part of the prison, Flynn said, and also help suggest a "sense of confinement" that's not obvious today to folks strolling on the sunny bluff with sweeping views of the Colorado River.
"It's all about bringing the story to life, so that people don't just walk through and look, they feel in their bones what it was like to be here," Flynn added. "Like our new audio feature where sensors trigger recordings inspired by prisoner diaries as you explore the cell block, so voices echo off the walls -- and maybe echo in your mind later."
In previous years, funds raised at the 3:10 to Yuma event were used to buy a replica Gatling gun and to design and install a granite timeline of the Prison's history.
"It's always important for donors to be able to see where their money is going," Flynn said. "This year's project will be awfully hard to miss."
Tickets for the fundraiser are $50 each, or those who want to sit together can buy a reserved table for eight for $400. Tickets are available at the Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. every day or charge by phone at 928-328-8716.
Yuma Visitors Bureau markets the Yuma area within the travel and tourism industry and to the general public. Direct travel spending in Yuma County in 2012 totaled more than $657 million, supported 6,660 jobs and generated more than $40 million in state and local tax revenues.
Yuma's population nearly doubles in the winter months, thanks to more than 23,000 spots in RV parks and resorts. The community also offers nearly 4,300 hotel rooms, conference and meeting facilities, and three modern casinos. To plan your visit, head to www.visityuma.com or call 800-293-0071.
Recognized by Guinness World Records as the world's sunniest spot, Yuma offered free meals to guests "every day the sun doesn't shine" for a full year during Arizona's Centennial. Final score? Sunshine 365, Gloom 0.
Yuma Visitors Bureau contact:
Ann Walker, 928-376-0100 (office), 928-210-9044 (cell), email@example.com
Yuma Territorial Prison contact:
Assistant Manager A.J. Mosqueda, 928-783-4771.
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