Osage Nation officially opens Wahzhazhe Heritage Trails

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital
Gianna "Gigi" Sieke, Osage Nation princess, cuts the ribbon to officially open the new Wahzhazhe Heritage Trails in Pawhuska. The opening ceremony took place the morning of May 5 at the trail head, located next to the municipal veterans memorial.

The Osage Nation on May 5 celebrated the opening of an important health and well-being amenity – a new pedestrian trail complex for which the trailhead is located next to the municipal veterans memorial in Pawhuska.

“Sovereignty, I believe, means taking care of each other,” Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on what turned out to be a sunny, warm spring morning. Standing Bear called the opening of the Wahzhazhe Heritage Trails “a great start” and outlined hopes for the development of other facilities and services.

Standing Bear explained he anticipated adding playground equipment and an outdoor classroom to the heritage trails complex – an outdoor classroom where lessons can be taught to children about Osage history and culture.

He said the project is additional proof that the Osage Nation knows how to spend federal money wisely on services for its people. He has advocated on several occasions for the U.S. government providing funding directly to the Osage Nation rather than passing money through bureaucratic agencies.

“We’ve proven it. We’ve just got to work together, but we can do it,” Standing Bear said. He spoke of a desire to see a new medical clinic and a sports park built near the trailhead for the Wahzhazhe Heritage Trails.

A crowd of young Osage children was included in the ribbon-cutting ceremony and the kids were among the first people to try out the new trails.

Other Osage Nation officials reinforced the theme Standing Bear articulated.

“I love to be part of something – vision and progress and moving forward,” Angela Pratt, speaker of the Osage Congress, said before introducing Congressman R.J. Walker for more remarks.

“I think this ties into the Scenic Byway. It’s an asset,” Walker said. “It’s just something that we can all be proud of, right across from the Visitors Center.”

Justin Carr, director of the Osage Nation Roads Department, makes remarks about the newly completed Wahzhazhe Heritage Trails project.

Walker was referring to the scenic byway along Oklahoma 60, from Ponca City to Pawhuska to Bartlesville that the Osage Nation completed in 2019, offering the motoring public historical and cultural information.

“This is a unique project for us,” Justin Carr, director of the Osage Nation Roads Department, said of the new pedestrian trails. “We’re excited to see the tourism that it brings to the area.”

Casey Johnson, the Osage Nation’s operations director, said the project had been a multi-department effort.

Pat Fisher of Builders Unlimited, out of Broken Arrow, said the project had not been easy to carry out. He noted most of the concrete had to be poured from a person-powered wheelbarrow.

Jody Burd, construction manager with the Osage Nation Roads Department, commented later that a little over a mile – some 5,400 feet – of ADA-accessible concrete trail and some three-quarters of a mile of mulch nature trail had been developed. Two pedestrian bridges were among the elements of the project, which began in mid-May 2020.

The budget was about $1.7 million, and the Wahzhazhe Heritage Trails are expected to come in under budget, at perhaps $1.5 million, Burd said.

“We hope people get a lot of enjoyment out of it,” he added.

This is an image of one of two pedestrian bridges that are elements of the new Wahzhazhe Heritage Trails complex in Pawhuska. The trails officially opened May 5.