Construction starts on new Wahkpa Chugn pathways
By Ron VandenBoom
A $100,000 construction project to build a trail system at Wahkpa Chu'gn Buffalo Jump started this morning with the removal of a stone not just any stone, but a landmark at the local historic attraction.
Located on the south side of the stone is the hoof-print of a bison. According to local archeologist John Brumley, the print was probably carved by an Indian shaman, or medicine man.
The stone, he said, was probably used to mark a place where Indians would gather to ask the spirits for a successful hunt or to give thanks after the hunt was over.
"That's only speculation," he said, adding that the real purpose of the stone may never be known.
The stone was moved so crews from Baltrusch Construction Co. of Havre could start work creating a path system that will extend 1,000 feet through the buffalo jump and kill site and create a level and paved entrance area at the top of the attraction. The path and entrance area will eventually be connected by a staircase that is also to be constructed this summer.
Anna Brumley, who runs the day-to-day affairs at Wahkpa Chu'gn and gives tours, said it has taken about seven years to get the funding together for the project. Anna Brumley is married to John Brumley, who discovered the buffalo jump when he was 12.
"I actually thought I'd be dead before I saw this day," she said.
Rick Lieberg, a grade setter for Baltrusch, said the path will be about 8 feet wide and extend about 1,000 feet from the bottom of the staircase to the westernmost display building, which contains an excavated hearth or cooking pit.
Lieberg said the path will contain rest areas and turnaround areas. The turnaround areas will be used by another new addition to the site, a shuttle car. Brumley expects to use the car to transport senior citizens and the disabled through the site. Brumley described the shuttle as resembling the type of cars used in airports and said it would handle four or five people at a time.
The staircase linking the two paved areas will be of a National Park Service design and will offer a gentler slope than the current stairway while also providing rest areas and handrails a feature not now available at the site.
Bathrooms, which are to be located at the top of the hill near the main entrance to the site, are also expected to eventually be part of the construction plan.
Lieberg said the Baltrusch contract calls for the path project to be completed within 45 days.
Brumley said construction of the staircase cannot begin until the pathway is completed.
The stone that was moved today will be returned to a site near the entrance area after the construction is completed, Brumley said. But it will not sit in the same spot.
This, Brumley said, is not really a problem since the stone was actually found somewhere to the south of the buffalo jump during construction of the Holiday Village Shopping Center in the early 1970s. It was moved to its current location at that time.
The site was used as a buffalo jump, kill site and camp for 1,500 years by three different Indian groups.