Buffalo Jump project gets super-sized
Havre Daily News/Nikki Carlson
Lotton Construction Inc. lead carpenter Eli Salapich installs a new door frame on the inside of an exhibit building at the Wahkpa Chu'gn Buffalo Jump Wednesday afternoon. The exhibit building is getting a new look — a new retaining wall, sidewalk and observation deck, the pit has been filled and the entrance is being repaired. Salapich said the renovation project began two weeks ago, and will be completed by this week. Work will then begin on another exhibit building where Lotton will build a new structure around the existing one, and then tear down the old building.
A problem in funding turned out to be a boon for a Hill County archeological site, as partnering with the state, the local university and local contractors has nearly doubled a project there.
"We're taking what was a big project and making it even bigger, " said Krystal Steinmetz of Bear Paw Development Corp., who helped set up the funding for work at the Wahkpa Chu'gn Buffalo Jump behind the Holiday Village Mall.
Steinmetz said changes to the project have been approved by Travel Montana — the state tourism department — and she is waiting for final changes to the contracts, while the county museum funding foundation is paying for some work already under way.
Work has started on replacing and upgrading some of the display houses at the site, a location where Native Americans had driven bison off the bluff to be slaughtered and the meat and other parts of the animals prepared for use. During the next phase students learning construction trades at Montana State University-Northern will be building a visitors center for the site.
John Brumley, the archeologist at the site who discovered the location when he was a youth in 1962, said one display at the site — the displays show the actual dig sites unearthing archeological items — is now being upgraded, and another will be completely rebuilt.
A third site, exposed to heavy runoff and weathering, will be abandoned and returned to its previous, natural state. Brumley said the heavy weathering of that site makes trying to repair and maintain its display housing prohibitive.
"This one is just kind of a losing battle, " he said.
The other part of the project is having the students at the YouthBuild program at Northern construct a building to move to the entrance of the site, at the top of the bluff, to use as the interpretive center.
"We're pretty excited about that, " Brumley said. "It kind of came out of the blue. "
He said the plan is to have the building at the site by the end of the year, and to start the finishing work and start putting displays in it after the first of the year, to be ready for the next tourist season.
The YouthBuild program, mainly funded through grants from the U. S. Department of Labor, is operated through a private nonprofit corporation to provide education and training to disadvantaged youths ages 16-24. The youths work on earning their GED while learning job skills and building housing for their region.
The program at Northern primarily partners with the schools in Havre and at Rocky Boy's and the Fort Belknap Indian reservations.
Program Director Bob Anderson said this morning the people in his program are looking forward to the project.
"Once we get the plans we will move forward with this, " he said.
Anderson said 16 students are enrolled in the 20-week program, which started earlier this month.
The original plan was to use a grant through the state Tourism Infrastructure Improvement Plan to pay for work on restoring and upgrading the displays at the site, while different options for creating a visitors center were explored.
Steinmetz said that when the bids came back for the project, which was required to pay federal Davis-Bacon wages due to program requirements, the costs were too high for the grant — about $66,000 from the state with about $34,000 required in local matching money.
The H. Earl Clack Memorial Museum Foundation, which received the grant, was about to turn the money back over to the state tourism department so some other project could benefit from it, Steinmetz said, but the state wanted to find a way to make the Wahkpa Chu'gn project work.
Some revisions to the planning were made, with YouthBuild set to build the visitors center, and money from the foundation now being used to pay for the work on the displays, which is counting as the local match for the grant.
"We were really excited, " Steinmetz added. "We weren't sure if this was something YouthBuild would consider. "
The TIIP grant now will be used to pay for materials and some other work, such as electrical contracting, on the new building.
The new, innovative way of funding and proceeding with the project should benefit everyone, she added.
"I think that this is kind of a unique partnership we have been able to form …, " Steinmetz said, adding, "This will be able to have an even bigger impact on the community and the tourists coming through. "