Hopi ruins near Winslow, Arizona face closure

Susan Secakuku, a Hopi Tribe official, speaks at an ancient structure at Homolovi Ruins State Park near Winslow. The site is important to the Hopi because it once was occupied by the tribe's Anasazi ancestors. The tribe is trying to develop a partnership that would keep the park open if budget cuts require park closures.
Susan Secakuku, a Hopi Tribe official, talks about the importance of Homolovi Ruins State Park near Winslow.

[Source: Daniel Newhauser, Cronkite News Service] — Before Homolovi Ruins became a state park, relic hunters with shovels and even backhoes used to tear through the rolling high desert here scrounging for ancient pottery.   Today, remnants of a 14th-century Anasazi village are preserved, and in some cases, restored so visitors such as Micah Lomaomuaya, a member of the Hopi tribe, can see how ancestors of the Hopi traded and farmed along the Little Colorado River.  But it also serves as a bridge between cultures, he said. “This is really a good stepping stone for us to use in terms of sharing our culture with the outside world,” said Lomaomuaya, a consulting anthropologist for his tribe.  “If this park closed, it would really limit our ability to reach and interact with the outside world.”

As the Legislature grapples with a $3 billion budget shortfall for fiscal year 2010, Homolovi Ruins, the only state park dedicated to Native American culture, is among facilities that could face closure as Arizona State Parks anticipates budget cuts.

That’s no small worry to Lomaomuaya and others in the Hopi tribe, whose reservation lies 60 miles north of Homolovi Ruins, but whose history is embedded in this auburn expanse that in Hopi means “place of the little hills.”  “It cannot close, in my mind,” Lomaomuaya said.  “It needs to be open for everybody.” [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

New Arizona state parks chief once vandalized park property

Arizona State Parks Assistant Director Renée Bahl, who oversees Arizona's State Historic Preservation Office, carved her name into a 100-year old adobe wall at the historic San Rafael Ranch in Santa Cruz County.[Source: Casey Newton, Arizona Republic] — The woman chosen to be the next director of Arizona’s state parks once carved her name into a historic park property in southeastern Arizona.   She also helped recover thousands of acres of burned parkland in San Diego County and launched an innovative system for making campground reservations online. The Arizona State Parks Board’s unanimous selection of Renée Bahl to take over the parks system next month has polarized state leaders.

Parks officials say she is a dynamic, experienced professional who will help lead the parks system out of a historic budget crisis.  Bahl, 40, is “a vigorous, intelligent, resourceful person who knows how to get through the most difficult of times,” said Bill Scalzo, who led the selection committee for the Arizona State Parks Board. The board voted to pick Bahl last week.  But at least one lawmaker says her selection as director is inappropriate given a vandalism incident that took place nearly a decade ago.

Bahl, a former assistant state parks director, oversaw historic preservation at the San Rafael Ranch. San Rafael, which is not open to the public, is a 3,500-acre preserve purchased by the parks board in 1999.  It sits at the headwaters of the Santa Cruz River and is home to a variety of wildlife and endangered plants.  In 2001, another employee caught her etching her first name and the year into the wall of a historic adobe barn.  Bahl was disciplined but remained in her job until 2002, when she left to become director of parks and recreation for San Diego County, Calif.

State Rep. Daniel Patterson, D-Tucson, criticized the selection.  “She was in a position overseeing the state’s historic preservation office,” said Patterson, the southwest director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, who wrote about the issue on his blog.  “It’s hard for me to understand that someone in that position could be so clueless that they would think it would be OK to vandalize a state historic property.” Patterson called for Bahl to issue a public apology.

Through a spokeswoman, Bahl declined to comment.  Officials said they were impressed with Bahl’s education, which includes a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s degree in public administration with a focus on natural-resource management.

Scalzo said Bahl brought up the vandalism incident during an interview and apologized for it, saying she had made a mistake.  “One thing I really appreciated is she brought that up,” Scalzo said.  “She didn’t say, ‘I’ve had a perfect career, I don’t make mistakes.’ ”

Bahl, who will make about $140,000 a year, will take over for Ken Travous, who is retiring after 23 years leading the parks system.  She will oversee a budget of about $23 million, most of it from grants and user fees, and about 270 employees.  Lawmakers swept $36 million from parks coffers in the last year, prompting the closure of three parks and threatening several more.  The board is currently working to prevent further cuts proposed by the Legislature’s Republican leadership, which board members say would devastate the system.

Scalzo called criticism a distraction from the parks board’s most pressing problems.  “We need help, we don’t need criticism,” he said.  “We need to have this new person come in here with everyone wishing her the best. Because she’s going to need every bit of it.” [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Upper Verde suffers from off-road vehicle abuse

It’s illegal to drive vehicles anywhere off authorized roads and trails on the Prescott National Forest, and it has been that way for a decade.[Source: Joanna Dodder Nellans, Verde News, June 10, 2008] — The spectacular scenery and cool waters of the Upper Verde make it a magnet for an ever-increasing number of illegal ORV users who are destroying signs and then carving roads along its banks.  Arizona Game and Fish Department estimates Arizona has experienced a 347% increase in ORV users in the last decade.  Some have a huge attraction to driving through the water, evidenced by some of the illegal activities they post on Internet sites such as You Tube.

The state Senate Natural Resource Committee conducted a hearing this week about off-road vehicle issues.  Despite all the increasing problems, the Legislature raided the remaining four months worth of money ($395,000) in the Game and Fish 2007-08 budget for ORV law enforcement and education.  It also swept the Arizona State Parks fund for ORV education and grant money.  And it’s highly likely this will happen again for the entire budget year that begins July 1, said Sen. Tom O’Halleran of Sedona, who opposes such budget raids.

The Prescott National Forest used one of the State Parks grants recently to replace vandalized signs in the Upper Verde area.  The State Parks Ambassador Program is another victim of the budget cuts, said Jeff Gursh of the Arizona Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition.  It trains ORV volunteers to monitor trails including one on the Prescott National Forest below Crown King.  State Parks also provides educational brochures to ATV dealers out of the cut funds.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]