By Nick Worth
Renovations to several facilities, trail work and the replacement of a three-mile long water line are some of the projects on the drawing board for Petrified Forest National Park in the coming year, according to Park Su-perintendent Brad Traver.
Workers at the park just finished a project to replace the boilers in the Painted Desert Inn that was funded under the 2012 fiscal year budget.
Traver said two large projects will be started later this year. The first is to replace a three-mile section of the water line that serves Rainbow Forest. The line runs from the Puerco River south toward Rainbow Forest.
The second will be to shore up the foundation of the Petrified Forest Visitor Center and Administration Building.
“We have lots of foundation problems,” said Traver. “It’s an important part of taking care of the facility.”
Both projects are expected to be under construction in the fall of 2013.
Some other improvements around the park include the continued rehabilitation of the old stone building at Puerco Pueblo. Traver said new trailside exhibits have just been installed at the Puerco Pueblo site.
The Blue Mesa Trail will also be the focus of some maintenance and repair work this year.
Some smaller projects slated for 2013 include work on the park headquarters building and the visitor cen-ter.
“We’re always picking away at the rehabilitation of our headquarters complex,” said Traver. “This year we expect to complete the rehabilitation of the front of the old Painted Desert School, which is now used for of-fices.”
Traver said the park staff will also begin the task of making improvements to the central plaza area, outside the visitor center windows.
“We’re trying to make it more user friendly,” Traver explained. “It’s in an area you come to before you pay your fee to get in.”
Some improvements planned include providing shade and installing exhibits to introduce the park to visi-tors, explain its history and what they will see when they enter the park.
Hiring at the park is, for the most part, on hold for now, according to Traver. He said until the “fiscal cliff” issue in Washington, D.C., is settled, he has to hold off on addressing some staffing needs at the park. He noted that some positions came open late last year and have not yet been filled because of the federal budget impasse.
“We are proceeding to fill one position,” said Traver. “We hope to have the assistant facility manager posi-tion filled this spring.”
He also listed other open jobs at the park, including two vacancies in the visitor services group, one in ad-ministration and one more in facilities, and noted that “one of our folks in visitor protection deployed to Af-ghanistan with the National Guard for the year.”
“We will fill needs with short-term employees as we can until we have some certainty on the budget for the rest of the fiscal year,” Traver said. “We’re still not out of the woods. We could still end up with some cuts.”
Another focus of the coming year and beyond will be the history of the Petrified Forest. The park contains a wealth of archeological sites, some of which have yet to be documented.
“We’re going to start a three-year project this year that will record and map the archeological sites on the lands we have acquired since the 2004 Expansion Act,” said Traver. He said the Expansion Act brought an-other 40,000 acres of land into the park purchased from the Hatch Family and transferred from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Along with the land came a windfall of archeological sites that have yet to be re-corded.
“We have no idea how many sites there are,” said Traver. “There could be hundreds, possibly even thou-sands of sites we have to record.”
The emphasis on archeology and human history in the park will also come to the fore in 2013.
The park will be hosting a celebration of Arizona Archaeology and Heritage Awareness Month in March. The month-long slate of events includes activities suitable for adults and children, and most run on Saturdays at the park.
Sandbox Archeology will be presented between 10 a.m. and 12 noon each Saturday, March 2, 9, 16, 23 and 30, at the Painted Desert Visitor Center. The activity, which is geared toward children, allows the kids to exca-vate artifacts from a sandbox that reflect the rich human history of the park. This activity is led by a park ranger. For more information, contact Lauren Carter at (928) 524-6228, ext. 276, or e-mail Lau-ren_Carter@nps.gov.
The Puerco Pueblo Walk allows visitors to join a ranger to explore the remains of an ancestral puebloan village. The walk is an easy, three-tenths mile walk on a paved loop and is wheelchair accessible. Walkers will meet the ranger at the Puerco Pueblo trailhead in the park at 2 p.m. and the hike will last approximately 45 minutes. It is recommended walkers bring comfortable walking shoes and water. The walk will be held each Saturday in March. For more information, contact Carter.
Life on the Edge: Feast or Famine in Arizona’s Past is billed as a presentation by a cultural demonstrator with ancestral ties to the area, who will share engaging skills and traditions. The program will be presented on Saturdays, March 9, 16 and 23, at the Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark at the north end of Petri-fied Forest National Park. For more information, contact Kip Woolford at (928) 524-6228, ext. 273, or e-mail Kip_Woolford@nps.gov.
An ongoing archeology exhibit will be available daily, March 1-30, during normal business hours at the Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark. The exhibit focuses on the 10,000-plus year human history of the park area. For more information, contact Sarah Herve at (928) 524-6228, ext. 264, or e-mail Sarah_Herve@nps.gov.
Visitors looking for something a little more off the beaten path will find it in a guided backcountry hike led by a ranger or an archeologist into areas of Petrified Forest National Park’s backcountry. Each of the two hike itineraries will showcase excellent examples of petroglyphs and the rich human history of the area. The hikes are held each Wednesday in March, and each is approximately two miles, round trip, lasting about two hours.
On Wednesdays, March 6 and 20, hikers will meet at 10 a.m. at Lacey Point at the north end of the park, and then will hike “off trail” into the Painted Desert to discover some of the best petroglyphs in the park. The hike is considered moderately difficult.
On Wednesdays, March 13 and 17, there will be a Historic Route 66 Hike. Petrified Forest is the only national park with a portion of Route 66 inside its boundaries, and hikers can enjoy a moderately difficult, two-mile round trip hike along this portion of the Mother Road to learn of its important history. The hike meets at the Painted Desert Visitor Center.
The two hikes are the only activities during the month that are not wheelchair accessible. Children should only participate if they are able to comfortably walk the distances associated with each hike. It is recom-mended that children be at least 8 years of age. For more information, contact Bill Reitze at (928) 524-6228, ext. 268, or e-mail William_Reitze@nps.gov.
Hikers should come prepared with sturdy hiking shoes, appropriate clothing, a hat, sunscreen and water
By Nick Worth