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Park, museum to close Aug. 6-21 for safety, work efficiency
YUMA, ARIZONA - August is a traditional vacation month, but it's work, not play, that will close Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park for two weeks from Aug. 6-21.
"Major construction" is in the works for the park and museum operated by the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, including restoration of the original 1875 adobe sally port and repair of the wooden deck on the prison's iconic guard tower.
"These are big, complicated projects involving two of the prison's big draws," said Charles Flynn, Heritage Area executive director. "For the safety of visitors, it made sense to let the contractors have free rein to get the job done quickly and efficiently.
"August is our slowest month for attendance - if also the hottest for the guys that will be out there doing the work," Flynn added. "But by literally sweating it out now, it means that everything will be in good shape as we go into our busy season."
Flynn noted that the improvements were made possible by $175,000 in capital improvement funding from Arizona State Parks and strong public support of the prison's "3:10 to Yuma" fundraiser last spring. Favorable construction bids also meant the nonprofit Heritage Area has been able to stretch its funds farther, Flynn said.
"Restoring the sally port has been a top priority, but we didn't think we could afford it," Flynn said. "But we've had an expert in adobe restoration working at the Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park this summer, and with that contractor already mobilized and the funding from state parks, we were able to schedule it now, and also do the work on the guard tower deck we only recently discovered was needed."
During the prison's operation from 1876 to 1909, the sally port was the only entrance and exit through the prison's massive walls. Graceful arches belie its deadly function: with gates on both sides and an opening guards on the roof could shoot through, the sally port was designed to foil escapes. The same design was used in medieval castles and variations are still utilized in modern jails.
Repair work will first include removal of the 3,094 square feet of plaster, Flynn said, which will allow a better assessment of how much adobe needs to be repaired or replaced. Once the adobe is fixed, a new lime plaster will be applied to the entire structure. Workers will also repair the strap iron gates, replace broken plastic covering the "murder hole" in the roof with tempered glass and restore the guard shack.
Depending on the extent of the adobe repairs and how far available funds can be stretched, additional work could include repairs to the museum's adobe exterior and treatment of wood shingles on the guard tower and museum to extend their lives.
"We have made tremendous progress in addressing deferred maintenance, and we appreciate the financial help both from Arizona State Parks and our supporters in the community and around the country," Flynn said. "We hope everyone will be patient about the need to close to get this work done and plan to visit when we reopen."
The park and museum will reopen Aug. 22. Through the end of September, the prison is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays, and closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Beginning Oct. 1, the prison is open the same hours seven days a week.
Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area is an independent nonprofit corporation governed by a local board of directors. It was among the first national heritage areas in the West officially designated by the U.S. Congress. The Heritage Area's master plan projects earned the Governor's Arizona Preservation Award in 2009. For more information, call 928-373-5198 or visit www.yumaheritage.com.
Yuma Visitors Bureau markets the Yuma area within the travel and tourism industry and to the general public. Direct travel spending in Yuma County totaled more than $566 million in 2010, supported nearly 5,800 jobs and generated $36.3 million in state and local tax revenues.
A longtime favorite with sun-seeking snowbirds, 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 4,000 hotel rooms, conference and meeting facilities, and three casinos. For more details about Yuma's year-round attractions, special events - and the rarely "cloudy with a chance of tacos" forecast* - visit www.visityuma.com or call 800-293-0071.
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