'Bronze age' may be coming to city park: Foundry in plans for West Wetlands
Plans are in the works for a Mormon group to build a bronze foundry and possibly even a gift shop at Yuma's West Wetlands park.
Roger Blakeley, the city's director of park development, recently briefed an approving Yuma City Council on the rough outlines of the plan.
A local Mormon organization called the Army of the West wants to cast a nine-foot-tall bronze statue of one of the leaders of a Mormon Army battalion that blazed a trail across the Southwest - including through the Yuma area - in 1847.
There is already a place picked out and cleared at the West Wetlands for the statue of Army Lt. Philemon C. Merrill, Blakeley said.
Blakeley said it will cost around $300,000 to create the statue and build the small bronze-casting foundry. He said the initial money probably would be raised by the Army of the West through the sale of various metal-casted coins and 100 smaller, $3,000 versions of the statue, among other things.
Army of the West Treasurer Mike Jarvis said once the foundry is built, the city could take it over and maintain it with help from the Army of the West.
Blakeley - who is a Mormon - said that while the details of the plan have yet to be worked out, the Army of the West is the first group that has come to him saying they can come up with the money to build their statue.
Former Yuman Robert Merrill - the great-grandnephew of Philemon C. Merrill - is the sculptor who would cast the statue. He currently lives in Miami, Ariz., where he has a studio.
Eventually the city would like to install large statues throughout the downtown area to mark various early trails through Yuma and to honor important people such as Abraham Lincoln, Blakeley said.
He said he envisions the foundry and its gift shop as a money-maker for the city.
"We'd have an agreement with the city that they'd get so much off the sales," Blakeley said.
He added that the foundry would also tie in to the downtown Yuma Arts Center and could be used to foster local sculptors' efforts.
"There could be another Rodin in Yuma," Blakeley said.
Mayor Larry Nelson - who is a Mormon himself and president of the Army of the West organization - and the other council members praised Blakeley's efforts so far on the project.
Deputy Mayor Ema Lea Shoop noted that there are other historic groups who are interested in being represented in the trail project, although they may not have as much money to contribute at the moment as the Army of the West does.
Shoop said that the national organization of Juan Bautista de Anzawould like the city to create maps and put up signs pointing out the de Anza trail through Yuma.
Shoop - who helped organize a 1975 re-enactment of the de Anza party's crossing of the Colorado River in Yuma - said she has no problem with the city working with the Army of the West group on its proposed foundry project.
"You start with the group that can raise the money," she said.
T.M. Shultz can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6852.