In September 2001, the city of Fullerton (pop. 1,400) received a $150,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG)—one of a few CDBGs granted—for development and renovation of a historical site—in this case, Broken Arrow Wilderness. The CDBG was matched with $150,000 from in-kind donors who were keen on preserving the 120-acre site’s history that dated to July 4, 1844, when government workers invited area settlers and members of the Pawnee Tribe to celebrate and commemorate the first Independence Day of the Nebraska Territory. This was one of many memorable historical events to take place here.
The site served as one of the last homes of the Pawnee Tribe before the men, women and children were rounded up and relocated to their present home in Oklahoma in 1876. One of the largest stands of natural burr oak trees in the United States, is found here, dating back more than 400 years, as well as a cliff that became known as ‘Lover’s Leap.”
It was ‘Lover’s Leap,” that served as backdrop for the largest Chautauqua celebration held between Omaha and Denver for 30 years. The railroad that traveled through the area, brought thousands of people to Fullerton to camp and enjoy summer festivities planned around the Chautauqua. Speakers, including William Jennings Bryan thrilled the crowds with magnificent orations.
For a period of years during the Great Depression, Broken Arrow Wilderness was the site of a Civilian Conservation Camp. Following a decade of private ownership and sitting idle, the Russell family purchased the historic land with the goal of developing a four seasons camp for individuals, couples and families interested in history and the outdoors.
During their first four years of ownership, Doug and Darla Russell restored and rebuilt historical guest cabins, a chapel, and other buildings, and restored trails and existing infrastructure. They offered use of the various facilities free-of-charge to area Future Farmers of America, 4-H, and other nonprofit groups, Pheasants Forever and its Young Mentor Hunt group, the Fullerton Fire and Rescue Departments, and church and school groups for yearly functions.
On July 4, 2004, the Russells held a special grand opening celebration—160 years after the first known commemoration to take place here. During the event, the McNeff family of Fullerton dedicated the Madelyn McNeff Prairie restoration memorial in memory of their late sister, which included a picnic shelter, trails, natural prairie grass and wild flowers located near the top of historic Lover’s Leap. The Russell Family contributed a 100-ft. flag pole and 25×38-ft. American flag that could be seen for many miles from state highways 14 and 22, in addition to two smaller flagpoles on which they fly the Nebraska State and Pawnee Indian Nation flags. Broken Arrow Wilderness also was added to the National Register of Historic Places by the National Historic Society.
Summer 2004 brought many events to Broken Arrow Wilderness, including the American Quarter Horse Foundation Show, many weddings in the historic chapel, and family reunions.
The project has resulted in a lasting economic boost for Fullerton in the form of three new jobs for low- and middle-income employees, more than $100,000 income for local caterers, convenience stores, motels, floral shops and other area businesses, and two tourism marketing grants for the Highway 14 Association. Additionally, a canoe and hunting outfitter business expanded in the area, and a young couple moved back to Fullerton to develop a computer and website design business.
To learn more about Broken Arrow Wilderness, visit: http://www.brokenarrowwilderness.com