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Fort Verde, Riordan Mansion state parks offer classic twists during Christmas season

Each year, rangers festively decorate Riordan Mansion State Historic Park for the Christmas holiday season. Decorations include a large live tree with evergreen wreaths draped across the living-room area.

Each year, rangers festively decorate Riordan Mansion State Historic Park for the Christmas holiday season. Decorations include a large live tree with evergreen wreaths draped across the living-room area.

The Daily Courier

Prescott offers scores of exciting activities during the Christmas season, but those seeking a change of pace can visit a pair of state parks in northern Arizona that also celebrate the holidays in style.

On Dec. 15, Riordan Mansion State Historic Park in Flagstaff will conduct "A Riordan Christmas Tradition," an event that is free and open to the public from ¬9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

It will represent the final chapter in a yearlong celebration of Arizona State Parks' 50th Anniversary in 2007.

And, from Dec. 16 through Jan. 5, the buildings at Fort Verde State Historic Park in Camp Verde will feature festive decorations.

Visitors to the park can see how Victorian-era women cherished the season on the frontier from 1865 to 1891.

Christmas trees on the park's property will showcase decorations unique to frontier life. The park will place handmade wreaths on the doors of its old Commanding Officer's Quarters, Bachelors' Quarters and Surgeon's Quarters, and put one holiday tree in each building.

On Dec. 8, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the park will play host to a Victorian Ornament Making Workshop in which female volunteers participate.

"I go through the books that I have here, which we have a complete library on the historical period, and we buy the paper and everything they need," said a female ranger with Fort Verde State Historic Park, who wanted to remain anonymous. "They come in and make Christmas ornaments such as little sachet patches and candy cups that go on the trees."

One week later another group of female volunteers will decorate the park's three evergreen trees.

"People come every year just to see how we decorate the trees," she said. "It's nothing fabulous. It's very simple. But people enjoy seeing how Christmas was in the late 1800s."

The day at Riordan Mansion on the Dec. 15 begins with "Christmas Crafts" in the park's visitor's center as well as a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus in the Michael Riordan family home, or the mansion's West Wing, from 9 to 11 a.m.

Mike Davis, the park's manager, said participating children will carry on an American tradition of making ornaments. They will decorate recycled juice-can lids before affixing State Parks' 50th anniversary logos onto them.

"It's primarily a children's oriented activity," Davis said. "We supply all of the materials and supervision. Anyone's invited. We've been doing this for a number of years."

From 10 to 10:30 a.m., while children are decorating ornaments, visitors can listen to the soothing sounds of the Suzuki Violin Performance, also in the Michael Riordan home.

"Budding musicians will be playing this music," Davis said. "This is also geared toward young children. They will be performing a lot of Christmas music."

At 10:45 a.m., a couple of hours prior to a trio of afternoon events, ArizonaState Parks Executive Director Ken Travous will make a 50th anniversary presentation in the visitor center with cake-cutting and refreshments.

Starting at 1 p.m. in the Michael Riordan home, Park Ranger Nikki Lober will offer insights into the kinds of Christmas traditions Americans celebrate and explain the reasoning behind them.

"It's a historical look back at our traditions, such as why we send Christmas cards, for example," Davis said. "There are interesting explanations for these things."

"A Riordan Christmas Tradition" will conclude with more Christmas music in the Visitor Center. At 2 p.m., the Adult Handbell Choir from Flagstaff's Trinity Heights United Methodist Church will showcase its sounds. An hour later, at 3 p.m., the Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy Choir will sing carols to keep the Christmas spirit alive.

Riordan Mansion also offers guided tours throughout the year. For a modest fee, visitors can go on a one-hour tour.

From Dec. 1 to Jan. 6, rangers will give hourly tours of the Timothy Riordan home, starting at 11 a.m. and ending at 4 p.m. Those interested in the tours, which include glimpses into folklore and Christmas traditions, should make reservations.

Davis said rangers have put up many of the mansion's Christmas decorations.

The Riordan homes are traditionally decorated and include antique quilts on loan from Flagstaff's Coconino Quilters Guild.

Next Tuesday, the park will receive a large white fur tree that rangers will stand in the mansion's large common room between its east and west wings over the weekend of Dec. 1.

On Dec. 15, park rangers will allow visitors to come and go between the east and west wings to take a look at this Christmas tree.

The park's winter hours are 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. To make a reservation or get directions to the mansion, call (928) 779-4395.

Regular entrance fees are $6 for adults and $2.50 for children ages 7 to 13. Those ages 6 and under get in free.

Over at Fort Verde State Historic Park, rangers charge a $2 admission fee for adults. Children ages 13 and under who are accompanied by an adult get in free.

For directions on how to get to Fort Verde, call (928) 567-3275.

Contact the reporter at dcook@prescottaz.com

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