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Monday, 13 March 2006
'Right in our own backyard'

Wilderness Calling

Broken Arrow area a hub of activity near Fullerton

By Gretchen Fowler
Web-Posted July 4th, 2004

FULLERTON -- Nestled among more than 10,000 oak trees, Broken Arrow Wilderness north of Fullerton is the place to be -- and that's something people from across the country are beginning to find out.

The 160-acre area owned and operated by Doug and Darla Russell was the setting for a concert filmed this weekend by MTV. Saturday's performance by the Randall Zwarté band will be part of the network's "Road 2 Sturgis" special and will give audiences a closer look at the kinds of activities that are drawing people to Central Nebraska.

"People don't realize there are places like this right in our backyard," Doug said of the land that holds a rich history and endless possibilities for summertime fun.

In addition to holiday celebrations -- which include events such as concerts, figure 8 races and team sorting events -- Broken Arrow has facilities for camping, hiking, horseback riding and hunting. River trips allow visitors to go canoeing, tubing or tanking down the Cedar River, and the reception hall and chapel provide an ideal setting for a wedding like no other.

"I enjoy the weddings," Darla said, sitting in the office west of the chapel. "I think Doug enjoys sharing the history."

Darla said people have come from as far as Chicago to get married in the rustic chapel that was left behind by the Baptists. The area was known as the Moses of Merrill Baptist Camp from about 1942 to 1974. The Russells bought the land from a private owner in August of 1999 and have worked ever since to preserve the area's rich history and to share it with others.

"We just liked history, and we like our small towns and we're trying to promote the tourism industry," Doug said of the reason he and his wife purchased the land north of Fullerton and just off of Highway 14. "We just want to bring new money into our states and our towns."

Doug, who remembers going to a 4-H camp at the site when he was a child, said a lot of historic buildings in Fullerton have been lost. He spoke at length about the area's history and said his main goal when purchasing the land was to keep that from happening again.

"We didn't want to see this disappear because it had so much history behind it," he said.

Visit Broken Arrow, or log on to its Web site, and you'll learn about the story behind Lover's Leap. The wilderness area is on the National Register of Historic Places, and its claims to history are many.

Doug is quick to tell visitors about the presence of the Pawnee Indians and how the land was once the largest Chautauqua grounds between Omaha and Denver. He said the land was the site of Nebraska's first Fourth of July celebration, in 1844, and was at one time, in the 1930s, home to the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Writing a new chapter in history, the Russells are working to make Broken Arrow a place where people of all ages and walks of life can have fun. Darla said visitors as young as 3 months old and as old as 80-something have enjoyed tanking down the river. This past week, visitors came from Wisconsin and Colorado to ride horses on the trails, and when it comes to hunting, visitors have converged on the Broken Arrow from New Jersey, New York, Florida and Arkansas.

"It's the atmosphere," Doug said of what brings people to Broken Arrow for everything from river trips to family reunions. "Everybody we've ever talked to said it's the atmosphere they enjoy."

Kristi Lindburg of Polk had her wedding reception at Broken Arrow last summer and said she chose the location "because it's its own little place."

"I liked the scenery and the trees," she said. "It worked good for our pictures."

The same building Doug and Darla rent out for wedding receptions is also available for events such as rehearsal dinners, company parties and conventions. Doug said companies out of Florida and New Jersey have come to Broken Arrow for corporate getaways, and as these people go back home, word-of-mouth grows their business even more.

"We're in the middle of the United States," Doug said. "We're in the middle of everywhere. What better place to meet than in the middle?"

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