Open Space Purchase Leads to Tribute
by Kelly Tolbert, Recreation Coordinator, City of Prescott
In 2008 the City of Prescott purchased, with designated open-space funds, an 80-acre parcel where the popular Constellation Trail now navigates over large boulders while winding through the Granite Dells. Though it is reported that city officials were aware of the history of the area, it was not until the summer of 2011 when trail construction began, that interest in creating a memorial gained real momentum.
The tragic history (and namesake) of this site refers to a February 1959 training mission involving a United States Air Force Lockheed C121G Super Constellation, which originated from Moffett Field. On its return flight from Litchfield Park NAS in Phoenix, the aircraft reportedly flew too low and eventually crashed into the Granite Dells.
All five U.S. Navy airmen on board were killed. These gentlemen were Commander Lukas Victor Dachs, Lt. Theodore L. Rivenburg Jr., Lt. Edward Francis Souza, Flight Engineer Calvin Coolidge Coon and Engineer James Stephan Miller. It has been speculated that the aircraft was experiencing issues and attempting to land at the Prescott Municipal Airport.
As one can imagine, the news of this new trail generated a lot of interest from not only the public, but from surviving family members of the lost servicemen. Momentum for a proper monument really took off when a young gentleman by the name of Cody Walker took on the project for his Eagle Scout ranking. The vision of a memorial with a concrete bench, wall and a bronze plaque paying tribute to the fallen were all put into motion. As with most Eagle Scout projects, community businesses donated most of the materials.
Over the course of the memorial project, Cody independently conducted further research regarding the aviation records and the families whose lives were forever changed that February. Eventually, he was able to contact several of the family members, many of whom attended the dedication of the memorial after its completion in fall 2011.
More recently, some improvements have taken place at the trailhead, but one thing is for certain – the mystical atmosphere from the original Constellation mission remains very present at the popular hiking and bicycling destination. So much shrapnel and many pieces of the aircraft have been unearthed since the opening of the trail that visitors have designated an area near the monument to collect and place the relics.
In addition to the history of this tragic account, visitors to the Constellation Trail can expect to meander through the large granite boulders that characterize the Granite Dells. Accessibility to the trail was greatly improved over the winter during the Highway 89 widening project, which provided 40 paved parking spaces added to the west of a new roundabout and perhaps future restroom facilities. An estimated 46,000 annual visits in 2016 proves the Constellation Trail to be one of the most visited in the city’s Mile High Trail system. For maps or more information on city-maintained trails, visit prescotttrails.com.