Homolovi Ruins State Park to Reopen

[By Lee Allen, Indian Country Today]

Photo courtesy Ellen Bilbrey/Arizona State Parks

It’s been a tough year for the 28 sites within the Arizona State Parks system, particularly for the Homolovi Ruins State Park in Winslow, responsible for protecting and safeguarding the 4,000-acre cultural and religious site.

The park, originally home to the Hisat’sinom (the “long-ago people,” better known as the Anasazi of the 14th century), and closed since February because of statewide fiscal problems, is now in the final planning phase and about ready to announce a specific reopening date, expected soon.

“For over half a century, we have thrived as a department, but Arizona State Parks was not immune to the bumpy ride through our Great Recession during Fiscal Year 2009 – a year of significant change,” said its executive director, Renee Bahl.

Homolovi was one of 13 state parks forced to padlock its gates after the Arizona legislature, in response to a massive deficit, ordered a sweep of millions of dollars from conservation funds such as state parks gate fees. “These sweeps are catastrophic to the agency and will eliminate any hope of us operating the system,” said Parks Board Chairman Reese Woodling.

Anticipating some sort of belt tightening, the parks folks had already shut down camping and RV sites in October 2009, shortly before the Special Legislative Session officially ordered the money grab in mid-December. By February 2010, a phased series of park closures was started with Homolovi Ruins one of the first to close to the public.

Homolovi, a Hopi word meaning “place of the little hills,” features a cluster of some 300 archaeological sites including several separate pueblo ruins built by various prehistoric peoples from 1250 – 1400 A.D. The park serves as a center of research for tribal migration of that time period and while archaeologists study the area and confer with the Hopi to unravel area history, Arizona State Parks provided an opportunity for visitors to personally experience two of the seven ruins.

Most visited is the largest, Homolovi II, an excavated site with about 1,200 rooms, 40 kivas or underground ceremonial chambers, clusters of pit houses, and three large plazas. Petroglyphs can be found along certain sections of the nearby Tsu’vo trail.

Many of the early peoples paused their migrations to stay awhile in these high grasslands and find a home along the Little Colorado River, tilling the rich flood plain and sandy slopes before continuing north to join peoples already living on the mesas, peoples known today as the Hopi.

The migrations ended when the people settled at the center-of-the-world, the Hopi Mesas north of the park. Today’s Hopi tribal members, referred to as the world’s greatest dry farmers, still consider Homolovi and other Southwestern pre-Columbian sites to be part of their homeland and make pilgrimages to the locations to renew ties with the people of the land.

As new people, like the Diné, and later, Europeans, arrived, the Hopi watched as ancient dwellings in their homeland were destroyed through digging into sacred sites for curios and souvenirs to sell. Finally, in an effort to protect what was left, the Hopi people supported the idea of Homolovi Ruins State Park, established in 1986 and opened in 1993 – until operating budget funding disappeared and “Closed. Do Not Enter” signs showed up.

While the state remains deeply mired in red ink with no clear-cut direction on how to balance its budget, the Hopi Tribal Council, in a 12-0 vote in October, approved a resolution to reopen the park as part of an intergovernmental agreement with the Arizona State Parks Board to operate and maintain the park.

“The park would be operated by the State Parks Department for 12 months with an option to renew the agreement for two additional one-year periods,” according to the Arizona Department of Tourism. “The tribe will provide $175,000 to subsidize park operations and State Parks gets to retain fees collected from visitors.”

“When the park closed, the Hopi people became worried that once again pot hunters could start desecrating our ancient homelands,” said Hopi Land Team member and tribal council representative Cedric Kuwaninvaya, Sipaulovi. “Now, in partnership with park representatives, the City of Winslow, and others, we can again protect and preserve our ancient homelands and share our cultural heritage.”

According to the timetable, the wheelchair-accessible Visitor Center will be open daily, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. The center offers a museum of Hopi pottery, carvings, and other art forms and exhibits explaining the archaeology of Homolovi’s ancient peoples and a gift shop of books and artwork operated by the Arizona Archaeological Society. The park also maintains a collection of artifacts returned from elsewhere in the Winslow area, items such as prehistoric pottery wares, stone and bone tools.

If the event returns to the schedule in July 2011, the annual Suvoyuki Days will take on a special significance. Suvoyuki, translated in the Hopi language means “to accomplish work through a joint effort,” celebrating partners who protect and save the area’s archaeological and cultural sites from destruction, a success admirably demonstrated in the reopening effort.

“We took some hard hits, but we will persevere through this fiscally turbulent time and reemerge as bright as ever,” Bahl said.

Hopi Tribal Council approves resolution to reopen Homolovi Ruins State Historical Park

[Source: White Mountain Independent]

The Hopi Tribal Council approved a resolution that will keep the Homolovi Ruins State Historic Park open, allowing safeguards and protection of the cultural and religious site.

Resolution No. H-068-2010, sponsored by Chairman LeRoy N. Shingoitewa and endorsed by Norman Honanie, was passed by the Council on Oct. 19 with a vote of 12-0. With the approved resolution, the Tribe entered into an intergovernmental agreement with the Arizona State Parks Board in an effort to assist with the operation and maintenance of the park -a move that will help preserve it.

The negotiated agreement allows the park to remain open thanks to the Hopi Tribe’s contribution, which will be used to employ park rangers and others working at the park. Funding for the park was designated by the Land Team in accordance with the agreement for the remainder of 2010 and is funded for Fiscal Year 2011. Funding for future years will be subject to the Council’s appropriations of additional funds.

According to the agreement, the park would be open and operated by State Parks for 12 months. There is an option to renew the agreement for two additional one-year periods. The tribe will provide $175,000 to subsidize the park operations and the State Parks will retain fees. The park will be subject to quarterly reviews of its operation by the State Parks and the Hopi Tribe.

Cedric Kuwaninvaya (Sipaulovi), Hopi Council Representative and member of the Hopi Land Team, is thankful for the agreement.

“I am glad the park will reopen and it will be safeguarded and protected,” Kuwaninvaya said. “It is because of the budget deficit, the Homolovi State Park was closed by the state. Hopi became worried that once again, the pot hunters could start desecrating our ancient homelands. Hopi began discussions with state park representatives, the City of Winslow and others to formulate a plan to keep the park open. Thus an agreement was developed and approved. As a result, we will protect and preserve our ancient homelands and share our cultural heritage.”

Earlier this year, the state’s budget deficit threatened funding for 19 of the state’s 28 parks, including Homolovi Ruins State Historic Park. Various entities and municipalities throughout the state began efforts to help fund the operations of state parks across the state. It is estimated that the budget for the state parks was drastically reduced from $28 million a few years ago to $18 million, this was an effort by state lawmakers to tackle the budget deficit.

The re-opening day of the Homolovi Park has not been determined yet, according to Ellen Bilbrey with Arizona State Parks. Bilbrey said some parks are still closed, some are managed by others and some operated in conjunction from others to stay open.


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Board votes to close 21 of 30 Arizona state parks by June

[Source: Casey Newton, Arizona Republic] — The Arizona State Parks Board voted unanimously Friday to begin shuttering state parks, a move that will leave the parks system with fewer than one third of its properties open by June 3.  In an emotional public meeting that lasted nearly six hours, parks-board members heard from dozens of residents from across the state, pleading to keep the parks open despite steep budget cuts.

Local elected officials warned of dire economic consequences to their towns.  Sheriff’s deputies said they will no longer be able to patrol some lakes.  Park volunteers offered to run the parks for free.  But board members said they had no choice but to close 21 of 30 parks and recreation areas following last month’s special session of the Legislature, in which $8.6 million was cut from their budget.  That was on top of $34 million in cuts in the previous year.  “Unfortunately, we don’t have options,” said Walter Armer, a member of the board.

Among the most popular parks slated for closure are Roper Lake, which drew 86,000 visitors in 2008, and Picacho Peak, which drew more than 98,000.  The parks that will remain open generate revenue for the system, such as Slide Rock and Kartchner Caverns.  The parks system records more than 2.2 million total visits a year, according to the Arizona State Parks Department.  Armer added that the board would work to reopen the parks as soon as it had the funds to do so.

Several proposals are making the rounds in the Legislature, including one that would add a roughly $9 fee to the cost of registering a vehicle.  The money would pay for park operations, and Arizonans would then be able to get into any state park without paying an additional fee.  The proposal with the most support at the moment would refer the question of whether to impose that fee to voters, said Jay Ziemann, the department’s legislative liaison.

Wittmann resident Chrissy Kondrat-Smith took her daughter, Sydney, to every state park one recent summer.  The 4,000-mile journey inspired Sydney to become a junior park ranger at Red Rock State Park, which is slated to close.  Sydney, 8, recorded a video letter to Santa Claus over the holidays, asking him to keep the parks open.  Sydney began crying when she learned the parks would close.  She couldn’t understand why the parks can’t stay open with volunteer labor, her mother said.

Others expressed concern about what will happen to the parks once staff members aren’t around to protect them. Although the parks board does intend the closed parks to be patrolled, it remains unclear how many staffers will be available.

Charles Adams, a professor of archaeology at the University of Arizona, warned that closed parks would become magnets for vandals and thieves.  Adams expressed particular concern for the Homolovi Ruins, an archaeological treasure that was brought into the parks system in part to protect it from theft.  “There is great concern in the archaeological community as some of these close,” Adams told the board.  “They are extremely vulnerable.”

As the meeting concluded, members of the parks staff received word that Gov. Jan Brewer’s budget proposal released Friday would make further reductions to the parks budget, which could make Arizona the first state in the nation to close its entire parks system.  “We have a huge collective fight on our hands,” said Arlan Colton, a member of the board.  “And that’s our fight for survival.”  [Note: To read the full article, visit Board votes to close 21 of 30 Arizona state parks by June.]

Which Arizona state parks will close?

Horse's patootie (read the article and you'll understand)

[Source: Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services/Arizona Daily Star] — The decision by lawmakers last month to take funds from the parks system means some will be closed later this year, the director of the agency said Thursday.  The only question that remains, Renee Bahl said, is which ones.  Bahl said the system, which already gets no direct taxpayer dollars, is being crippled because of the legislative action to take away a chunk of the funds they get from other sources.  That includes not only the fees paid by those who go to the parks but also special funds raised, such as assessments on registration of boats and off-road vehicles.  The bottom line, she said, is that her agency will have $7.5 million to spend rather than the $19 million it had planned for the fiscal year that began last July 1.

Bahl said she will make specific recommendations to the board on which parks to close in two weeks.  But she outlined the criteria her staff will use — criteria that are likely to be bad news for the smallest and least-used of the parks.  One of the most important, she said, is which make money or, at the very least, don’t lose a lot.  Bahl said that makes the most sense, as the cash from those parks might eventually be enough to reopen one or more of those shut down.

Topping the list of money producers is Kartchner Caverns, near Benson, followed by Slide Rock and Lake Havasu state parks.  Catalina State Park, north of Tucson, brings in about $193,000 more a year than it costs to operate.  But the parks system also is populated with sites that bleed red ink.  Topping that list is Tonto Natural Bridge near Payson, where costs exceed revenues by $541,000.  Red Rock State Park at Sedona operates on a $190,000-a-year loss, with six-digit deficits at Tubac Presidio, Picacho Peak, Homolovi Ruins, and the Riordan Mansion in Flagstaff.

Bahl said, though, that the board will have to consider other factors when deciding which parks should be shut down.  “There are one-time costs like fencing, or if we needed to add a security system to a building or board something up,” she said.  “And we’re still going to need to keep an eye on it after that, checking it both for fire hazards and seeing if there’s any trespassing.”

Several board members, given the news, lashed out at lawmakers for taking the funds, even after being told at hearings last month that it will mean shutting parks.  “We have people in the Legislature who don’t believe state parks should exist,” Tracey Westerhausen complained.  She said the best thing that those who want the parks system could do is go out this year and elect different people.

Board Chairman Reese Woodling said the parks bring in more in tax dollars from visitors to communities than the cost. He said that message seems lost on lawmakers.  But board member Arlan Colton said it’s not that they don’t understand.  He said that, facing a multibillion-dollar deficit, “I don’t really think they give a horse’s patootie” about the effect of taking a couple of million dollars from the parks system.

Woodling said he and Bahl spoke with Gov. Jan Brewer earlier this week.  He said the governor, who signed the legislation authorizing taking the money, was sympathetic but offered no answers.  “I’m just sick to my stomach,” he said.  Brewer had no choice but to approve raiding the funds, said her spokesman, Paul Senseman.  “The Legislature has been unable to muster enough support for a deficit-reduction plan,” he said.

But Senseman said Brewer is unwilling, at least at this point, to endorse the recommendation of a task force she formed to create a “sustainable” park system: put an optional $15 surcharge on the registration fees for all vehicles in this state.  The fees would raise enough to keep the system operating, with motorists who paid the extra cash getting free admission all year to every state park.  “The governor believes it ought to be discussed in a very serious fashion,” Senseman said of the recommendation.  [Note: To read the full article, visit Which Arizona state parks will close?]