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Mapping Proposed Park Expansions

Intermountain Support Office
Kerri Mich
Casa Grande Ruins National Monument and Petrified Forest National Park are two parks in the Intermountain Region with proposed park expansions. The Intermountain GIS Support Center has worked with the parks, Susan Garland, the regional legislative affairs specialist, and, in the case of Petrified Forest, the National Parks and Conservation Association to assist with the maps of the proposed park expansions.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument:

Like so many communities in the fast-growing Southwest, Coolidge is experiencing change: new businesses, residents, and opportunities for economic development. These new opportunities create a challenge for protecting the area's rich cultural heritage. Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, established in 1892, is the first cultural preserve in this country. Yet had we known then what we know today about the archaeology of the area, the boundaries may have been drawn quite differently.

As a result of several recent testing and excavation projects, we now know a great deal more about the nature of archaeological remains on the outskirts of Casa Grande Ruin. One of the most important lessons learned is that intact buried deposits extend well beyond the boundaries of the monument, even in areas that have been farmed for decades. Hundreds of pit houses, pits, and burials are still preserved below the plow zone, and at least 10 canals and two ballcourts are known to exist. Unfortunately, these resources are threatened by proposed commercial development on the north side of Coolidge.

Complicating matters is the fact that most of the land slated to be developed is privately owned. Compliance with state and federal burial laws is required, but otherwise there is no legal mandate to deal with what are clearly some of the most significant archaeological remains in the entire nation.

Several public meetings were held to discuss the economic development adjacent to and around the Casa Grande Ruins and the need to protect irreplaceable archeological sites ancestral to Casa Grande Ruins, and to protect the integrity of the monument. The public meetings recommended the Monument acquire archeological sites that are thematically related to Casa Grande Ruins that meet congressional requirements for additions to the National Park Service.


To acquire archeological sites that are thematically related to Casa Grande Ruins that meet congressional requirements for additions to the National Park Service. To change Casa Grande Ruins to a lineal park of Classic Period Hohokam sites and to expand the present theme of early inhabitants, farming and the continuation of one culture.

(see the cagr_expansion.jpg)

Petrified Forest National Park:

NPCA is spearheading an ambitious campaign to more than double the size of Petrified Forest National Park to protect world-class paleontological resources, nationally significant archaeological sites, valuable wildlife habitat, and the park’s stunning Painted Desert vistas. Scientifically valuable lands adjacent to the park contain many incredible resources but are under imminent threat of development and looting. NPCA’s ongoing campaign will extend federal protection to over 120,000 acres of private, state, and Bureau of Land Management lands adjacent to the park.

Important Resources Not Protected within Petrified Forest National Park: The 93,500-acre park was initially established as a national monument in 1906. Since that time, it has undergone a series of expansions, including one in 1962 when the monument became a national park. Petrified Forest was initially designated to protect large concentrations of rainbow-hued petrified tree trunks and expansive vistas of the colorful eroding badlands of the Painted Desert. Since that time, paleontologists have determined that the escarpment that bisects the park contains the best record of Triassic-era (approx. 250 millions years ago) terrestrial ecosystems found anywhere in the world. But the park protects only six miles of the 22-mile-long Chinle escarpment. In addition, hundreds of archaeological sites have been identified on lands adjacent to park boundaries, including pueblo ruins and some of the most unusual rock art panels in the Southwest. Consequently, scientists have stated that the value of resources located on lands just outside the park most likely surpass those currently protected within its boundaries.

The Park Service studied options for a boundary expansion in their 1992 General Management Plan and determined that nationally and globally significant paleontological, archaeological, and scenic resources of direct importance and relationship to the park are not included within its current boundary. A boundary expansion, as proposed, would result in the long-term protection of these resources and would also protect air quality, wilderness values, and natural quiet within the park.

Threats to Resources: Lands adjacent to Petrified Forest National Park contain many unique resources but are under imminent threat of subdivision, development, and looting. Most of the scientifically valuable land is undeveloped ranch land that, by virtue of its lack of more intensive uses, has helped preserve scenic views from the park. But more intensive land uses, such as subdivision of square-mile sections into 5- to 40-acre ranchettes, railroad and natural gas facilities, a proposed landfill, and mechanized petrified wood mining on private and state lands—without reclamation—threaten to destroy both the scenic quality of the park and its irreplaceable resources.

Ranching in the region has become less viable due to recent prolonged drought. It is therefore critical that landowners resist the temptation to subdivide their lands, which would further complicate the expansion and result in the loss of irreplaceable resources.

Lands adjacent to the park have been subject to illegal pot hunting and vandalism to petroglyph sites at an alarming rate. One landowner working with NPCA to sell portions of his ranch to the Park Service documented over 400 unauthorized excavations of Native American graves that were robbed of pottery by vandals, who then sell the pots on the black market.

On a nearby section of state-owned land, private investigators recently caught a local resident excavating a 75-foot long petrified log with a backhoe and flatbed semi-trailer. (The commercial value of the petrified wood, once cut into tabletop sizes and polished, was estimated to be several hundred thousand dollars.) The Arizona State Land Department has voiced its concern over the rampant vandalism and theft of resources on lands next to the park and, because it is unable to prevent such trespass due to the area’s remote location, would rather sell these low dollar-value lands to the federal government than to passively witness their demise.

(also see the own_exp02.jpg for the NPS proposal, and NPCA_proposal02.jpg for the NPCA proposal)

April 08, 2004