WILLIAMS - In just short of two months, Bearizona will welcome the park's first visitors through its gates.
The 158-acre drive-through wildlife park, located near the Highway 64 and Interstate 40 junction on a parcel of land previously owned by the Keethler family, was previously scheduled to open May 9.
According to Chief Operating Officer Vanessa Stoffell, while construction has been difficult due to this winter's continuing wet weather, hiring the park's workforce was a much easier process.
Bearizona held a job fair in late February in order to fill approximately 40 available positions including car attendants, tower patrol and gate security guards, admissions supervisor, administrative assistants, gift shop cashier, grounds maintenance and service staff.
Stoffell said over 268 interviews were conducted the day of the job fair. She has received 40 more applications in the time since the fair.
"It was fantastic," she said. "We were so impressed with the caliber of candidates that we had here in Williams. We had a very highly qualified job pool. There were probably three or four people interviewed that could be running it in place of myself and Sean (Casey)."
Applicants traveled from Chino Valley, Prescott, Ash Fork, Flagstaff and Camp Verde to interview for the open positions. Stoffell said the majority of jobs at the park went to members of the Williams community.
"We have a good core group from the Williams area," she said. "We hired one person from the Prescott/Chino Valley area and one person from Flagstaff."
A total of 37 people have been hired for both full-time and part-time positions with 28 Williams residents among that number.
Most positions have been filled although Stoffell said she is still looking for some grounds and maintenance people and qualified individuals for car attendant positions.
"The kinds of people that we'd like for car attendants are real energetic, enthusiastic sorts of people," Stoffell said. "The car attendants will wait on cars as they come
up to our admissions area. These people are part ambassador, part sales."
Wyoming artist Jonathan LaBenne and his family are in the process of creating two waterfall features, one near the entrance to the park and one in the Mountain Goat animal enclosure.
LaBenne creates the main structure with old, rusted cars, trucks and buses.
Bearizona Project Manager Jeff Richards said once the structures are complete, mesh is applied and then a thin layer of concrete.
"Then, they get in there and do some carving to make the rock ledges," Richards said. "It will look natural. They'll spray it so that it matches the natural surroundings."
The larger of the two waterfall structures will be found in the mountain goat pen and will include outcroppings to replicate the goats' natural surroundings in the wild.
L.P.'s Excavatng is currently working oin the main road leading to the park. Richards said the road will likely be one of the last projects to be completed before the park is opened to the public. He went on to say that many areas of the park are still saturated due to heavy snow runoff leaving many of the roads incomplete.
"L.P.'s is trying to put in some culverts to let some water go through," Richards said.
One area of the park is currently covered with approximately 18 inches of water. Stakes, indicating where a road will be roughed in, barely break through the standing water.
To create animal enclosures, 11,000 feet of fence has been installed with 12,000 more to be installed before the park opens.
Richards said even with roads in various stages of completion and other projects still under way, the park will open on schedule.
"You know at times I joke like the people are going to be following the asphalt truck in," he said. "But, I don't think so. I think we have a two-week flexibility. I keep telling Sean (Casey), you know, June first wouldn't be bad. Then again I think we'll be fine. It's just like a house. You're never done. You're always going to be doing something."
Richards said solar panels will be installed on the ticket booths and maintenance shop to provide electricity to both facilities. Water tanks will also be used to collect water for irrigation purposes.
Animals scheduled to arrive
Some of the wildlife park's animals will begin arriving during the first half of April. Black bears, brown bison, white bison, bighorn and dall sheep will be the first to call the park home.