By Kristi Parker Johnson
HARKER HEIGHTS -- A 20-acre plot of land on Comanche Gap Road is steeped in history, and city officials want to keep it that way.
The city recently purchased the property, which is recognized by the Texas Historical Commission as the place where Comanche Indians abandoned two little girls they had kidnapped in a raid on settlers in 1859.
But in recent years it is better known as the home of a historical amusement park owned and operated by the Bill Alford family in the late '60s and '70s and the site of the annual Medicine Man awards ceremony.
The Alford family sold the land to the city for $350,000, and the city plans to develop the 20 acres into a historical park.
"It was a very difficult decision to sell, but we thought it was best. Selling it to the city was great news," Tom Alford, Bill's son, said. "We allowed people to use it, so the city allowing families to use it was important to us."
Tom and his three siblings, Steve, David and Melanie, grew up on the property and helped operate the different features of their dad's park.
"I was in first grade when we moved out there," Tom Alford said. "I worked in the zoo and the museum all through my elementary years."
The Alford children and their mother, George Ann, all live in the Dallas area now. Bill Alford passed away in January 2011.
The city will pay off the land purchase over four payments, City Manager Steve Carpenter said. The first payment of $77,100 was made upon closing in May, and a second payment of $70,200 is earmarked in the proposed 2012-13 budget. Hotel/motel taxes are paying for the purchase.
"That's one of the reasons we're making the payments over that period of time, because we only have four hotels," Carpenter said. "That way we're not having to pay for it out of borrowed funds or funds that you can use for city purposes."
Carpenter included another $50,000 in the proposed budget for brush-clearing and clean-up and to possibly hire a consultant to develop a master plan for the property. His vision for the park includes a museum, walking and hiking trails and picnic areas.
These days, the long and narrow 20-acre plot appears to have changed little over the past 150 years. The Hill Country terrain is mostly overgrown brush, cedar trees and rocks. Two ramshackle buildings near the north gate have seen better days and are headed for demolition, said Carpenter. An antique iron jail structure stands rusting but solid near a cedar grove.
And just over a rickety wooden bridge, a pavilion stands among mismatched tables and chairs, rusting farm implements and a large barbecue pit. This is Medicine Men territory.
In 1979, Bill Alford established the Medicine Man award honoring a local citizen who made "good medicine" by helping others in the community. The awards ceremony and dinner became an annual tradition. The 33rd Medicine Man ceremony took place in May, just before the city finalized its purchase of the property.
Despite the sale, the Medicine Man tradition will continue. The city agreed to allow the Medicine Men to meet there for at least another 50 years, said Carpenter.
No timeline for developing and opening the park to the public has been established yet, Carpenter said.