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Impact of local donations to “Save the Prison” visible as renovations get under way

Summer marketing efforts include Interstate billboards, coupons

YUMA, Arizona – Spring saw the first fruits of last winter’s campaign to “Save the Prison,” when Yuma Territorial Prison avoided a scheduled closing with transfer of the historic site to local control March 29.

Now, as summer temperatures slow traffic to the park and museum, local residents who donated their time, efforts and cash to the effort will see the first signs of physical improvements to park grounds and buildings.

In fact, planned construction is one reason the Prison will be closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays through the summer.  The park and museum will remain open to the public from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday through Monday through August 31 and resume a seven-day schedule September 1.

“We’ll be using the days that the park is closed to complete work that would be disruptive and dangerous to do when the public is on the grounds,” said Charles Flynn, executive director of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, which is operating the prison for the city.  “Jackhammering and pouring concrete with folks around wouldn’t be safe – or much fun for visitors either.”

Already under way is a complete renovation of the “great lawn” between the park office and the sally port that ushered the West’s worst desperadoes into “hell on the Colorado” from 1876 to 1909, Flynn said.  Other landscape changes will include “xeriscaping” of the area between the sally port and the main museum building with desert plantings and gravel.

The point is not just to save water, Flynn explained, but to help preserve the sally port’s original adobe construction.

“Since adobe is just glorified mud, watering it isn’t a good idea,” he said.  “We’re eliminating the grass around the historic foundations – but replacing the irrigation system elsewhere to keep the grass green and the trees healthy.”

Renovation of the museum’s restrooms is also on the summer agenda, Flynn said.  “We want to preserve history, but not when it comes to plumbing.”

The public restrooms in the main museum building are at least fifty years old, Flynn said, and badly in need of both cosmetic and “capacity” enhancements until new and expanded facilities can be budgeted.  The bad news, he said, is that means visitors will have to use portable toilets during part of the summer.

Meanwhile, Prison and Heritage Area staff will be hard at work on improvements and additions to the prison museum – including exhibits detailing how the Yuma community rallied twice to save the prison, first as a city museum which became one of the first state parks, and this year from the state’s budget ax.

Other work planned before a “grand reopening” set for Nov. 12-14 includes creation of a Chain Gang mural recognizing the hundreds of volunteers who pitched in and the installation of engraved commemorative pavers at the base of the flagpole on the great lawn.  For folks who want to be immortalized at the prison, the pavers are still on sale at the prison visitor center, or call for information at 783-4771.

Funds raised by the community last winter will support all of these efforts, Flynn said, along with a $10,000 National Park Service Heritage Partnership grant announced at the dedication of Pivot Point Interpretative Plaza last week.  The Heritage Area also has applied for a $123,000 “Save America’s Treasures” grant for sally port structural repairs, but won’t know the outcome until year’s end.

“By the time cooler weather rolls around, people will really be able to see a difference on Prison Hill,” Flynn said.  “The community response to the prison’s plight was so overwhelming and so heartfelt, we want to make sure that every penny is invested in real, permanent and visible improvements.”

The prison is now staffed by Manager Javier Morales, full-time employees Jennifer Arellano and Kace King, and part-timers Bert Raymond and Martin Trujillo.  The park welcomed 5,501 visitors in April, down about 1,000 from 2009, and 3,090 during May, up about 300 from the previous year.

“We’re still hearing from a lot of people that they thought the prison was closed,” said Arellano.  “But that’s starting to change as word gets out we’re still here.”

And that’s the point of a new marketing campaign being spearheaded by the Yuma Visitors Bureau to highlight not just the prison but Yuma Quartermaster Depot and the new Pivot Point Interpretive Plaza.

“Yuma is the only community in the state that’s stepped up to save not just one state park but two – and dedicated a new park of its own to boot,” said Susan Sternitzke, YVB’s interim executive director.  “That’s worth tooting our horn.”

The marketing campaign includes three billboards spotlighting the prison, along with discount coupons for prison admission YVB handed out at recent travel shows in San Diego and Phoenix.

Those coupons are also available at YVB’s Visitor Information Center, located at the Yuma Quartermaster Depot, 201 N. 4th Avenue.  The Quartermaster Depot will be closed on Sundays for the summer, remaining open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and resuming a seven-day schedule Sept. 1.  Call toll-free at 1-800-293-0071 or locally at 783-0071.

Del Outdoor is providing the billboards at a substantial discount, as a continuation of the “Save the Prison” campaign.  They are located on I-8 westbound near Cracker Barrel, on I-8 eastbound in Winterhaven and on I-10 in Quartzsite.  Tawnee Miller of Serendipity Photo donated the billboard photo.

A joint Heritage Area-YVB brochure featuring the three Yuma parks is in the works, to be distributed in locations across the state and at selected California Welcome Centers beginning in the fall.

The fast and furious Yuma Chain Gang effort between February and April netted more than $70,000 to help save Yuma’s most famous landmark – more than any Arizona community has raised to date to rescue a state park.

A fundraiser organized by local artist Judy Phillips with the cooperation of Yuma Fine Arts – featuring prison-themed works donated by Yuma artists – capped off the Chain Gang efforts with nearly $2,400 in sales.

The Yuma Quartermaster Depot was “saved” from closing in the fall of 2009, through the joint efforts of the city, the Heritage Area and Yuma Visitors Bureau.  Attendance at the Quartermaster Depot totaled 6,102 during April and May of this year, triple the total for the same months in 2009.  Attendance at the park for the winter was more than 17,500, three times the previous year’s total.

YVB markets the Yuma area within the travel and tourism industry and to the general public.  The nonprofit is funded in part by City of Yuma hospitality tax revenues.

Direct travel spending in Yuma County totaled nearly $600 million in 2008 and supported nearly 6,000 local jobs.  Travel spending in the county also generated more than $36 million in state and local taxes.


Contact: Ann Walker, Yuma Visitors Bureau Media Relations Specialist

928-376-0100 (office), 928-210-9044 (cell), email

The Yuma Visitors Bureau is always happy to assist members of print, digital and broadcast media, either on assignment or pitching an idea with a Yuma angle.

Visit Yuma team can suggest itineraries and facilitate visits, or provide you with the inspired details to help nail down an assignment.  We pride ourselves on always going "above and beyond."

You can download background and "anytime" materials below; dated press releases appear "most recent first" at left. Call or email us for photos and B-roll video.

YVB periodically hosts group and individual press trips, and is glad to partner with other Arizona or California DMOs to coordinate a visit to several regions.

For more information, contact Linda Morgan at 928-376-0100 (office), email Thanks for your interest in the Yuma area.

'Anytime' releases:

Around & about - a quick Yuma overview

Brilliant! Yuma wears 'sunniest' label with pride

Last link in river restoration under way


Background info:

Fast Facts About YVB

 Fast Facts About Yuma 

Yuma history - narrative

Yuma historic timeline


Research and statistics

Yuma Winter Visitors Study 2017-2018

Yuma Winter Visitors Study 2017-2018 Executive Summary

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