Close to 200 people gathered together in a new, freshly painted parking lot tucked up against the edge of the winding SR 89 between Yarnell and Congress. The people were there to attend the Dedication Ceremony for the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park.
It was nearly three and a half years ago that nineteen firefighters from Prescott's Granite Mountain Hotshots were killed in a wildland fire near Yarnell. Now the State of Arizona has opened a Memorial State Park in their honor.
Often, when someone thinks of a park, they think of grass and swings, playground equipment for children. The Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park (GMHMSP) is nothing like that. To get there from Prescott, travel down SR 89, and drive through Yarnell. After leaving the mountainside town, SR 89 winds down towards Congress, along the edge of mountainous, desert terrain. The rock embankment towers high above the road. Two miles south of Yarnell, there is a small parking lot nudging up against the mountain with less than 20 parking spaces.
Although it is called a “park” the GMHMSP more closely resembles a trail. There are no rangers, restrooms or trash facilities along the way. To begin the trek, there are steps to climb, then a winding one-way, 2.85 mile trail to the Observation Deck. Along the trail, there are 19 granite plaques, each representing a fallen hotshot. Benches and signs placed at the side of the trail to tell the story of wildland firefighters. From the Observation Deck, it is about another 7/10 of a mile to the Fatality Site.
It is not meant to be an easy trail. The 1100’ climb in elevation to the Observation Deck can be challenging. The rigor is intentional - it reminds visitors of the job Hotshot firefighters must endure. Neither is it meant to be “fun”. As the dedication ceremony brochure explained,
“…We dedicate the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park as a lasting tribute to 19 heroes who sacrificed their lives on June 30, 2013 while protecting our community. With each step along the trails of this park, we connect with the Hotshots commitment to duty, we reflect on their challenges in fulfilling that duty, and we commit ourselves to incorporating the lessons they taught us. This park is our promise to remember.”
This map is from the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park website.
The Dedication Ceremony
Governor Doug Ducey arrived a few minutes before the Dedication began, and took some time to speak to the media first.
In a later conversation, Ducey explained that when he was growing up, his father was in law enforcement. He remembered what it was like to live as a family member of a first responder. “You don’t listen to the news in the same way,” he said, noting that his mom always listened more alertly to breaking news. If his dad was later than expected coming home, she would worry, sometimes even checking with the hospital.
The Dedication ceremony took less than 30 minutes. Gov. Ducey spoke first, followed by Senator Steve Pierce, Representative Karen Fann, Arizona Public Service CEO Don Brandt and former Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo.
Arizona State Parks Executive Director Sue Black spoke heartfelt words to the families before revealing the sign, saying, "I am so sorry, I’m sorry that it ever happened.”
The ceremony ended with a Missing Man Formation Flyover.
After the ceremony was over, Brandt spoke about why APS chose to contribute, saying it was the right thing to do. Battalion Chief Ralph Lucas, who worked with the Granite Mountain Hotshots, also spoke about the significance of the Park.
Mike Menchel was standing quietly in the audience, taking in the ceremony and the respect shown to the Granite Mountain Hotshots. Menchel is the producer of a movie about the camaraderie and the cohesiveness of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. When Menchel started the project, he committed to the family members that he would do a film that would honor the men. He worked closely with them, and also Brendan McDonough, who is the lone survivor of the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew. The movie is expected to be released in fall of 2017.
McDonough and Menchel spoke about being at the Park Dedication and the upcoming film.
“Prescott is going to be proud of this film,” Menchel promised.